I haven’t installed Windows 98 in a LONG time but my Libretto is a Pentium 75MHz so Windows 98 is a reasonable choice of an operating system for it since thus far I’ve been unable to make a modern Linux distribution work with the system.  I wanted to how well Windows 98 stacks up to a modern operating system.

I have a pair of Libretto 50CT’s.  Both of which have adapters so I can use Compact Flash cards as hard drives instead of the noisy and power-hungry 810mb drives that ship with them.  This allows me to swap out drives quickly and easily.  Since the Libretto won’t boot of the pcmcia CD-ROM drive and I no longer have the Windows 98 startup floppy, I simply placed the Compact Flash card in a different ancient system for installation purposes.  That worked out just fine and the install went smoothly.  Before I put the card into the Libretto, I did the smart thing and copied the win98 directory off of the CD-ROM onto the hard drive for future reference.  The reason for this follows…

Windows 98 has some idiosyncrasies compared to a more modern OS like XP.  Pretty much every time you sneeze on some configuration parameter, you are required to insert the Windows 98 CD, copy files off of it and reboot the system.  Yes, this is archaic and annoying but back in 98’s heyday, hard drives were MUCH smaller so you wouldn’t have wanted to waste a bunch of disk space storing all of the CAB(cabinet) files.  People complain how XP and newer systems are so bloated, this is one reason that they are…  The CAB files are on the hard disk AND they have MANY MANY more drivers preloaded so that many hardware devices are covered on at least some level.

After I got Windows 98 installed and the CAB files copied over, I swapped the Compact Flash card into the Libretto.  As expected, when it first booted up, it updated drivers for the Libretto’s hardware configuration.  It needed to go through a couple of reboots to get it right but they were soft reboots.  An advantage of Windows 98 was that it was built on MS-DOS so it had the ability to soft-reboot where it would just kill the GUI and go down to the DOS level and restart from there.  This saves you the pain of the POST sequence and ram count.  After it was booted up and running, I was surprised and impressed that ALL the hardware seemed to be working perfectly.  I was expecting to have to track down Windows 98 drivers for the screen and sound but the Windows 98 second edition seems to have the Libretto 50CT covered perfectly.

Next, I wanted to get some wifi working so I found a SMC 2632W 16-bit PCMCIA wifi card in my stash.  First I’ll mention the bad…  WEP only.  As far as I know, there are no 16-bit PCMCIA wifi cards that support WPA/WPA2.  No surprises here.  I have a sandboxed access point to connect WEP devices to anyways so no worries here.  On the good note, SMC still has the Windows 98 driver for this particular card available on their website.  I copied the driver onto another CF card on my MacBook and put it in an adapter in the PCMCIA slot in the Libretto, after I copied it to the system, I remembered something else… No built in unzipping tool.  Back to the web I found an old pkunzip.exe file somewhere and copied that onto the Libretto.  I put pkunzip in the C:\windows directory and associated it to zip files and ran into another failure.  Pkunzip doesn’t respect directory structure of the zip files by default so I found the dialog to edit file associations and added a “-d” parameter to the pkunzip command.  This fixed the issues and I was able to move on with the installation.

I inserted the card and then pointed the hardware wizard at the desktop where I had unzipped the SMC drivers.  This went fine but the driver is REALLY kludgy.  There is no way to perform a scan of available access points(something else we take for granted).  Obviously I knew the AP I wanted to connect to but it took a reboot before it was all working properly.  After the reboot, I tried a ping….  SUCCESS!  So then I tried internet explorer and the home page it was set to actually crashed it.  I opened it back up and stopped the page from loading and then hit up google.  OUCH!  Surfing modern sites on this thing is SLOOOOOWWWW.  Oddly, surfing web 1.0 sites is just fine though.

The next thing I tried to do is Windows Update.  I went to the page and was informed that support had stopped in 2006 and only the updates to that date would be available.  Unfortunately, this did not prove to be true.  It appears that Microsoft has finally shut down the Windows 98 update servers entirely.  Not that I blame them but it would have been nice if they just scaled them down to one old server or something.  Oh well, I won’t be using this thing outside of a firewall anytime soon.

The last thing I did was put a keyboard banger program on this system for my son to mess around with.  He got a kick out of it and played with it for a good 45 minutes.  I think he likes this system because it’s so small.  His 2.5 year old fingers are probably the perfect size for touch typing on a Libretto.  🙂

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