Windows on Windows is messy

Question: I read your article on “system resources.” You mention that one of your favorite Windows 95 cleanups is to re-install Windows completely. I had Windows 3.1 with a Windows-95 upgrade. If I uninstall Windows 95, would Windows 3.1 still be loaded? And do I re-install 95 over 3.1?

I also have low memory. I have deleted all the surplus files and programs I could. I do have CleanSweep and the new WinProbe 95. I have run both programs to clean up all duplicate and redundant files it could find. I would like to try to re-install Windows to try to get rid of the errors and corrupt files if I can. Your comments would be appreciated. — D.P.

Answer: If you uninstall Windows 95 using Add/Remove Programs in your Control Panel, you might be able to get Windows 3.1 back. Otherwise, you’re out of luck.

During the Windows 95 upgrade, the install program asks you if want to keep a backup of Windows 3.1 and DOS files. If you say “yes”, you’re halfway there.

During that process, the install program puts two entries into the Add/Remove Programs box. One says Windows 95 and one is an entry for Windows 3.1 and DOS. To revert to the older operating system, simply click on the Windows 95 entry and uninstall it. The computer will dump the Windows 95 files and replace them with your older system configuration.

A word of caution, though: If you have any long file names, which are allowed under Windows 95, they will be truncated. Spaces in file names will be removed. If they are data files, you’ll still be able to open them, but look for a shortened file name that likely ends with a tilde character (~) and a number. So “Andy Walker.txt” would likely be truncated to andywa~1.txt. Windows 95-compliant programs will no longer work either, because they rely on the Windows 95 registry to work.

Uninstalling Windows 95 and reinstalling it on top of a somewhat stunned Windows 3.1 isn’t advisable. It’s too messy and leaves lots of room for error.

When I talk about reinstalling Windows 95, I take an “Attila the Hun” approach. That means wiping out the c:windows directory with the DOS deltree command. OK, so I don’t put the flailing registry files on stakes encircling the charred remains like Attila did to his vanquished. Nonetheless, nothing survives. Sometimes I even stand on my chair and pound my chest afterwards, but then I cough for half an hour, so it loses something that way and I don’t advise that last part.

Besides a sore sternum, there are some nasty side effects to this procedure. For one, you lose all your settings and any data files or shortcuts on the Windows desktop. Secondly, you have to reinstall Windows 3.1, then Windows 95, then every program on your hard drive. It can be very time-consuming.

Finally, you need to reinstall any Windows-related software patches, which can be a hassle because you’ll need to download the patch install files again if you haven’t kept copies.

The results, however, are wonderful. You get a nicely efficient system at the end of your efforts. For real die-hards, you might also consider backing up all remaining data and reformatting the hard drive.

I have a pal who works in Boston who delights in that kind of behavior. In fact, I learned the Windows 95 Attila approach from him. Then again, he’s rather anal-retentive about the state of his computer. I think he’s the kind of fellow who cleans behind his fridge for kicks. So much for the Attila analogy.