The rehabilitation of the Sotec PC-M260RW I received in exchange for the Thinkpad has gone well. The machine was in good shape in general, and after finding a decent ball mouse for only 300 yen in a recycling shop, I gave everything a good scrub, removed dust from the case, and reassembled it.
Systemwise, as I mentioned last month, the machine is licensed to run Windows 98. I found someone with a Win98 CD, and used the number on the case to install it.
It has been a very long time since I worked with Windows 98. The first true laptop I ever bought, if you don’t count an SX-64 , ran Windows 98, and most of my experiences were rather poor, in retrospect. I remember feeling quite exhilarated when I discovered Windows 2000, and that might be the last Microsoft operating system I thought functional.
Functional is the key word for this experience. Installation is quick enough — if you don’t count the 20 minutes it takes to format the hard drive, and there’s no way around that. But once it’s in place, there’s an amazingly slender amount of material to work with.
USB ports are useless. The network card, video card, monitor and audio subsystem can’t be identified. The modem has no driver either. With no way to connect and no way to import, it’s nothing short of crippled.
There is more than one way to skin a cat though, and I have a long list of cats I have skinned (metaphorically speaking, of course ). In this case, the obvious solution was to find drivers first for the network and the USB connector, and then move on to things like audio and video. I did, after all, have that lovely turquoise background, 8-bit color and a 640×480 screen. If only I could figure out why sometimes the wallpaper is the blue logo. …
Lucky for me, Sotec still has a web page with most of the drivers in place, although I did have to go straight to the Realtek site for Windows 98 drivers for the 8139-based card. Thanks, Realtek.
But getting them onto the machine was the difficult part. Or maybe not. I keep a Slitaz live CD on hand just for situations like this, and a quick boot and mount, and the files were on the host drive.
Of course, even from there, it wasn’t easy to deal with. Zip files were unopenable, which made the Realtek package only slightly useful. And even when it was finally opened and the driver in place, every obvious attempt to connect the machine to the internet through the ethernet card kicked out the MSN modem configuration wizard. Exceptionally annoying.
I finally managed to connect through the Internet Explorer options menu, but the irony didn’t stop there — the home page was set to msn.com, which caused IE to crash every time. I admit I laughed at that more than once.
There were many more mysteries to solve, but direct Internet access made things easier. At that point, however, my patience was running thin. After about 10 restarts just to get one or two things working, plus the two or three odd restarts for crashed programs, and I decided it wasn’t worth the effort. I got the USB connector working and the network card, but left the rest for the new user to solve.
To complicate things, there’s no support for Windows 98 any longer, which means any updates or fixes that might have been released in the last 10 years are inaccessible. Windows Update just stops cold, and tells you to get lost. I looked around in hopes of finding a service pack or something elsewhere on the ‘net, but apparently it’s not available (officially, that is). If there’s a way around that, please tell me.
Same goes for other little things — opening a Web page in Japanese prompted me to install the Japanese font sets, which were likewise unavailable. It seems to be impossible to switch keyboard layouts or system language, because again, it appears that all those things were hooked in through the MS update services.
I shouldn’t be surprised, but I have to admit that I am. I really thought that at least some of the core components to get a Windows 98 system up and running … would still be around. But aside from third-party sites, sketchy homegrown “service packs” and hardware manufacturers, Microsoft isn’t around.
Which in turn makes sense, since it goes against Redmond’s corporate goals. Sad, but not surprising.
In any case, this machine is destined for a split Windows 98-slash-Debian LXDE installation, and whatever the new owner decides to do after that is their responsibility. Hopefully they’ll pick an operating system that shows a little more sympathy.