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  Windows 98 System Information Utility

by John S. Krill

The System Information Utility provides detailed information about your system's hardware and software configuration. While most of this information was available in Win 95, it was harder to find because it was spread throughout different dialogs and configuration files. Win 98's information includes a configuration history for each device, so you can tell the difference between a working setup and a broken one. In addition, this utility acts as a control center for Win 98's other debugging and support tools, which you can start via the Tools menu.

System File Checker

Anyone who regularly tinkers with PCs knows it's a good idea to keep backup configuration files around for the inevitable moment that a rogue installation routine trashes a vital OS function or changes a much-needed Registry setting.

System File Checker (SFC) automates the process by storing version information for key Win 98 files -- monitoring COM, DLL, DRV, EXE, HLP, INF, OCX, SCR, SYS, 386, and VXD files -- in an SFC file that lets you update a corrupted system by clicking a Restore Defaults button.

You can add other file extensions as needed, and also select folders or subfolders to monitor. By default, Win 98 checks only the \WINDOWS\ACCESSORIES and \WINDOWS\SYSTEM folders.

The program also automates installation file extraction. Formerly a series of DOS commands under Windows 95, you now can select "Extract one file from installation disk," then click on the Browse button to find the file -- making it much easier to work with CAB files.

When you perform a system file check, the applet examines current folder entries against its data files. It offers to restore any that have changed, or to update its files to include the new version. It would be nice if SFC also told you how the file was modified in the first place, which would give you a better idea of whether or not to restore it. However, the applet does have a couple of other safety nets: You can save a backup of configuration files before going through SFC, and you can maintain a log file to show what went wrong if you make choices you later regret.

System Troubleshooter

The painstaking rename-and-comment-out process we've used for years with AUTOEXEC.BAT, CONFIG.SYS, SYSTEM.INI, and WIN.INI is history. System Troubleshooter lets you select which processes to activate during the Win 98 Startup, giving you an opportunity to isolate trouble spots with a checklist.

You also can choose to load, or not load, items in your Startup group, a big help when you're continually rebooting a system during troubleshooting. For the more adventurous, advanced options in the System Troubleshooter's Startup tab let you really get nasty with system plumbing. You can disable ScanDisk here, or limit memory access to as little as 4 MB.

System Troubleshooter also gives you editors for the AUTOEXEC.BAT, CONFIG.SYS, SYSTEM.INI, and WIN.INI files. Click on one and you'll have the option to edit each line in the file or disable it through a check box. You can move a line up or down if you have questions about execution order, or you can simply add new instructions to the file.

Microsoft applied some common sense to the SYSTEM.INI and WIN.INI files. They're outlined Registry-style, so that instead of paging through a gazillion lines of code to find the one you want, you just have to click the plus sign to expand a particular heading. You can disable items individually with the Startup tab.

Each tabbed editing page includes a View menu that lets you refresh your memory with settings in the Control Panel, Device Manager, and other configuration folders. One thing we didn't see that would be nice in the final version: a search tool for probing these often-lengthy files.