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Windows 98 disables Microsoft competitors' software

July 14, 1998
Web posted at: 10:45 AM EDT

by Brian Livingston

(IDG) -- The setup routine for Microsoft's new Windows 98 operating system deliberately disables files used by competitors' software and installs different versions of those files for the use of Windows 98.

Windows 98 includes a new utility, the Version Conflict Manager, or VCM, to keep track of the disabled files and provide a way for users to switch the files back. But the Win98 setup routine does not provide any notice to users that the files are being changed or that the Version Conflict Manager is available if a competitors' software no longer operates properly.

The changed files are DLLs -- small support programs that are shared by several applications -- as well as other shared files. If the Windows 98 setup routine detects that a competitors' program has installed a newer shared file than the version that comes with Windows 98, the setup routine moves the file to a new location, thereby disabling it. Win98 then installs an older version of the same file into the proper location. The application that depended on the newer version of that file may no longer work properly, or it may no longer work at all.

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Microsoft product manager Shawn Sanford stated in an e-mail exchange, "We wanted to be assured of a known, working baseline operating system when we were done with installation." This practice, however, places competitors who rely on the newer files at a severe disadvantage. Competitors' applications may no longer work, but users would have received no notice of the change.

In one test machine, the Windows 98 setup routine disabled three shared files:

  • Twain.dll (supports numerous scanners and other devices)
  • Msconv97.dll 1997.4.2
  • W95inf32.dll 4.71.17
The files were replaced with these older versions:
  • Twain.dll
  • Msconv97.dll 1997.3.12
  • W95inf32.dll 4.71.16

The Twain file, of course, is a popular driver that supports numerous scanners and other devices. Files of this type usually originate with Microsoft and are distributed by the Redmond, Wash. software giant to competitors for use with its products. But Windows 98 appears to rely upon earlier versions and swaps the files, whether or not this has a negative effect on other installed applications.

The Version Conflict Manager lets the user select a file and trade the older version for the newer version. But a Win98 user typically has no knowledge of what applications use which shared files or which version of each file would be "better." Moreover, the utility is unlikely to be found routinely by users, because it is buried deep within Win98's menu structure: Click Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Information, Tools, Version Conflict Manager -- and then you will find it.

Ironically, the origin of the Version Conflict Manager appears to have been a series of four columns written I wrote from Sept. 2 to Sept. 23, 1996. The columns complained that Windows 95 allowed applications to install older versions of shared files over newer ones, causing programs to crash. I urged Microsoft to have Windows catch such conflicts and prevent them, while allowing the user to switch between shared files, if necessary, later.

Rather than make the Version Conflict Manager available to all applications, however, "the VCM mechanism is only turned on during Windows 98 install," according to Sanford. After Win98's setup is over, the Version Conflict Manager ceases monitoring the system. If the installation of a third-party application subsequently causes a problem, the Version Conflict Manager will have no information about the situation.

Any user who installs Windows 98 should check the Version Conflict Manager immediately after the setup routine is complete to see if any shared files were changed. The Version Conflict Manager should show the names and version numbers of any files the Win98 setup routine modified. If this is the case, I'll describe in my column next week how you can tell what applications rely on those files and whether you should switch to the newer versions.

Brian Livingston is the co-author of several best-selling Windows books, including the most recent Windows 95 Secrets (IDG Books). Send comments to Unfortunately, he cannot answer individual questions.
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