On the road with Microsoft's Windows 95

Over the last month or so, I have had a chance to use a Toshiba Tecra 700CT laptop. This machine has essentially functioned as a mobile office for use as a presentation platform. The active-matrix screen is especially attractive for developing and revising presentations.

The Toshiba, running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 95, was very capable of handling MS Access while having MS Word and even Powerpoint open. This made the collection and recording of data much easier than it would have been using Windows 3.1 or even Windows for Workgroups and being program-bound.

The Tecra was equipped with 16M of RAM and a 120 MHz Pentium processor. The weight of the laptop is a bit much for the frequent air traveler though, especially if one has to carry a printer as well.

The battery life was longer than expected for such a powerful system.

I was using the MS Office Pro Version 4.3, which is the 16-bit version. Several times during the building of a presentation, Powerpoint would lock up and would not respond. This is an occasional but typical 16-bit Windows application behavior. The Windows 95 CTRL-ALT-DEL three-finger salute brought up the task manager, and I killed Powerpoint. I then restarted it and regained functionality - all without bringing down the whole system.

With the power management enabled, the system would progressively shut down. The first stage was the screen saver, followed by the hard drive spin down and the screen blanking. The final stage was system sleep. To reactivate at that point, one has to hit the power button once. There is a menu selection in the start menu that allows you to suspend the system instead of shutting it down completely.

This also is activated by the power button but doesn't require a complete system boot as a shutdown would require.

I inserted a Hayes Optima 28.8 PC Card modem and was pleasantly surprised with the nearly automatic installation of the modem's drivers. Indeed, PC Card support is one reason Windows 95 will suit many mobile users. When the modem's drivers are loaded, a modem icon appears in the Taskbar tray. This is a nice visual clue as to what is loaded into the PC Card slot. The system automatically compensated when the modem was removed from the slot and removed the modem icon from the Taskbar tray.

Caution Ahead

However, there are some cautions when using Windows 95 - or any other operating system - and one is virus protection. Windows 95 uses a 16-bit file system such as DOS/Windows 3.1, so it is vulnerable to the same viruses. I recently helped two users trouble-shoot a system slow-down problem. One was a mobile user, the other a desktop user. Both of the users' systems had been running under the 32-bit disk and file system and were optimized according to the device manager performance tab. Both systems were mysteriously running in MS-DOS compatibility mode, and the system was paging everything to disk in real mode.

A note in the performance tab indicated that the FAT had been changed and that there could be a virus. I ran a program that kills the monkey virus, and bingo! We got the system back into 32-bit mode and seemed to clear up the problem on both systems. The monkey virus is not particularly damaging to most systems, but it can really impact Windows 95 performance. The virus writes the FAT to another location on the disk and replaces it with itself.

It might be nice to see a virus program bundled on some General Services Administration schedule laptops. Then there won't be an excuse not to virus check, especially when diskettes are so frequently used to transfer files on the road.

Microsoft bundled virus protection with the last version of DOS. Why couldn't they bundle an anti-virus package with Windows 95? They included other disk utilities, but this is one vulnerability that requires an additional purchase from another vendor.

Overall, I think Windows 95 is a capable operating system for mobile users, has the advantages of a 32-bit operating system and is very friendly to PC Cards. The multimedia capabilities of the Toshiba Tecra 700CT make it a super desktop replacement or a laptop for those who need more horsepower on the road.

**

Dodge is an active-duty Army officer with 15 years of service. He has extensive experience with Windows, having started with Version 1.0 back in 1985. His current assignment is at Rock Island Arsenal with the Armament and Chemical Acquisition and Logistics Activity as a weapons system manager.

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