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Installing Windows Upgrade on a Fresh Hard Disk
By Thiravudh Khoman

Last week in the Post Database's letters section, reader Art Savacool asked whether there was any way to reformat one's hard disk and then to install the upgrade version of Windows 98 onto the cleansed hard disk. The reply was there no way to do this. Actually, there is, although the process is a bit involved.

Upon running setup, the upgrade versions of both Windows 95/98 check to see whether the target disk has Windows installed. Interestingly, you don't need a full or even a functional installation of Windows on your hard disk for this purpose. Rather, you only need to make sure that the files the upgrade is looking for (I'll call these the "bait files") exist somewhere on your hard disk.

In the case of Windows 95 upgrade, only 2 files are sought out: WIN.COM, which may reside in any subdirectory, and USER.EXE which must be in a subdirectory named System located below WIN.COM. Thus, all you need is to copy WIN.COM into say, C:\BAIT and USER.EXE into C:\BAIT\SYSTEM of a fresh hard disk and upgrade setup should proceed smoothly.

In the case of Windows 98 upgrade, a set of files (about 5-10, I think) are sought out. Unfortunately, the selection of files is not fixed and changes each time you run setup. While .COM, .EXE, and .DLL files are at the top of the search list, files with other extensions are searched as well, albeit less frequently.

Now, if you were to reinstall copies of Windows' .COM, .EXE and .DLL files into say C:\BAIT and C:\BAIT\SYSTEM of a fresh hard disk, odds are that Windows 98 setup SHOULD proceed smoothly. Still, installation could fail if too many non-.COM/.EXE/.DLL files are found to be missing. Fortunately, the setup program doesn't quit after failing to find the first file and in any case, you can re-attempt installation and hope that the files setup wants this time are available.

More problems lie ahead though. On my PC with Windows 98, .COM/.EXE/.DLL files in the C:\WINDOWS and C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM directories take up 130mb. Hypothetically, if reader Savacool were to take these 130mb of files and install them onto his clean hard disk, Windows 98 upgrade should run successfully. Ditto if reader Savacool were to copy all the .COM/.EXE/.dll in his current Windows 95 setup, which would probably still run into the 10's of megabytes.

Clearly, it is inefficient to obtain the required "bait" files from a production Windows machine, whether it be running Windows 3.1x, Windows 95 or Windows 98 - all of which can be upgraded to Windows 98, by the way. Instead, the "bait" files should be obtained from a fresh Windows installation before any additional applications are installed in order to minimize the number of files. Additionally, since there are fewer .COM/.EXE/.DLL files in a Windows 3.1x installation, the "bait files" should, ideally, be obtained from Windows 3.1x.

Quite coincidentally, reader Savacool mentioned that his computer originally came with Windows 3.1. I suggest that he ransack his home looking for these disks (or conjure them up somehow), back up his data files, reformat his hard disk, and lay down a typical Windows 3.1 installation. Once done, search and backup the .COM/.EXE/.DLL files in C:\WINDOWS and C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM. I've done this already and there are about 55 files in all, taking some 4.6mb of space. If you were to zip these files, they would conveniently fit onto two 1.44mb diskettes (slightly worse than Windows 95's "bait files", which fit comfortably onto a single floppy).

If ever reader Savacool wished to clean up his hard disk again in the future, all he has to do is to re-copy these "bait files" to his hard disk and run either Windows 95 or 98 upgrade. Both work. By the way, installing Windows 95/98 this way means having to reinstall your applications from scratch.

Important: The above technique is not meant to circumvent Microsoft Windows licensing. It is offered here purely as a convenience/timesaver to folks who have the legal rights to use the abovementioned software.

Copyright © 1998-2000, Thiravudh Khoman