The Problem –
(NOTE - This applies to Windows 95, 98, and ME only. Windows 2000 and Windows XP are completely different operating systems and these notes do not apply to them.)
Bear with me just a moment on this one. What we have here is a technical issue, but the recommendations I’ll make are very simple. The problem here is that under these versions of Windows, system lockups, crashes, and various random-appearing problems occur when you have done nothing wrong. You are just using your computer and have done nothing out of the ordinary, but it crashes anyway. You may have lost the last several hours of work and may have corrupted your hard disk in the process, but don’t blame yourself. These are software design issues (yes, the famous software “bugs”) at work here, and I will detail some of them further down in this tip.While you can’t avoid them entirely, you can reduce them with some good practices. I’ll give you the good practices first. If you want to read the detailed explanation, feel free.
Good Practice #1 -
Shut down at least every end-of-day. More often is better than less often.
You may have heard that computer equipment will last longer if you leave it powered on all the time, rather than shutting it down and powering it back up. Years ago, computer equipment would last longer if it stayed powered up all the time. The technology has changed however, and that is no longer an issue. For this and a number of other reasons, you should turn off your computer when you will be away for any length of time, most especially if you use Windows 95, 98, or ME. The re-boot will recover all system resources.
Good Practice #2 –
Avoid closing and re-opening programs as much as possible.
Instead, leave your programs such as Outlook, Word, and Excel open, even after you are done (for now) with them. The next time you need the program, just click on it from the Task Bar. The program has never been closed and re-opened.
If you are like me, in a typical day I might use Word 3 or 4 times, check my email (I use Outlook) several times, go to the Internet with Internet Explorer several times, look something up in Excel, and play some background music while I work. If I didn’t know any better, the day might go like this. I open Outlook and pick up my emails. One requires a response. I close Outlook and open Word, composing my response using an old document and some new information. I save the new document, close Word, and re-open Outlook. Attaching my response document to the email, I send it. A new email arrives now, and I need an Excel spreadsheet to get the answer for this one. I open Excel and look up the information. I close Excel and type my answer into a new email. My day continues, repeating the pattern. I am opening and closing the same programs over and over. Why this is bad practice is explained in the details section which follows below.
Instead of closing these programs repeatedly, leave them open and recall them by clicking on them on the Task Bar.
NOTE - The Task Bar is found on the bottom of the main Windows screen. Do not confuse it with the small icons that are next to the clock display on the bottom right of the screen. That section is actually called the “System Tray”. The “Task Bar” portion of that same bottom line, has the program names along with their icons.
Suggestion #3 -
Watch for the problem and take action before the crash occurs.
Here’s how to know when:
As the details which follow will explain, you are beginning to run out of “system resources”. How do you know this is happening? The non-technical clue is this: You are working along in a program you are quite familiar with, such as Word, when you notice that the screen fails to erase part of the last image, whatever that image was. You often see this when a window is closing and another one opening. The system is trying its best, but system resources are in short supply and Windows “sacrifices” something less critical (the screen image), rather than lose the actual data.
Here’s what to do:
Now is the time to act. Save your work and start closing programs. When they are all closed, shut down and re-start your computer. That will restore all your system resources and you can go back into the program and pick up where you left off.
Understand that this is not caused by you doing anything wrong. By all rights, you should be able to open and close programs all day long, with no ill effect. The programs are poorly designed and are causing the problems all by themselves.
Follow those three suggestions and your problems will be minimized. If none of that helps, you are probably a candidate for moving to the Windows XP operating system. In some cases, an upgrade will work. In other cases, moving to XP means a new machine. That’s another topic entirely and you may need assistance with that decision.
Here are the Details -
Windows 95 was the first modern Windows version. Windows 98, while sold to the public as a new operating system was, in fact, just a revision of the same operating system. If you followed the version numbering system Microsoft was using, they didn’t even bother to start a new sequence number as they released the software. It was just the next highest number. The same goes for ME. It was more of the same in that progression. While bugs were fixed along the way, new ones were created with each new release. Major design flaws were often not fixed and that is where this problem lies.
When a program opens, it takes what are known as “system resources” and allocates them to the running of the program. One of those system resources is main memory, but it is not the only resource. There are others (which you don’t need to know about) such as: virtual memory, registers, pointers, etc. In theory, when a program is closed, Windows is supposed to return those system resources back to the pool of available resources. “Supposed to” is the operative phrase here. Those versions of Windows often failed to do that. Over time, those resources become lost, meaning Windows could no longer find them. They should have been there, but they weren’t.
You can actually watch this problem happening. When you first boot up your computer, open Windows Explorer and click on “Help”. Select “About Windows” and look in the window which opens. The system resources will be displayed as a percentage. Typically, just after starting up a computer, that number will be 85 or 90%. Now, go about your work for a while, then check it again. Surprise, the number is dropping! Even if you close every open program before checking it, it will be lower.
There is little you can do to prevent this from happening, but following the three suggestions above will at least reduce the problem. By not closing and re-opening your application programs, resources are not lost.
In case you are wondering what a dangerously low level of system resources is, I can only give you some guidelines. I have seen systems lock up entirely (not even be able to close programs) when they get down to 35% of available resources. I would say that if you see resources much below 70%, you might think about shutting down and re-booting. It’s inconvenient, but it beats a crash with possible loss of your work.