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Win 98 upgrade snares PC makers

Companies looking to sell new systems are now embroiled in coping with upgrade glitches.

    This week, major computers manufacturers struggled to explain why months of testing failed to ensure their systems could not easily upgrade to Windows 98.

    Their answer seems to be the following: See special report:
Cracking Windows One operating system cannot fit every computer released since 1995.

    "With every major operating system upgrade, you will have machines that need to be updated," said Kim Akers, Windows 98 group product manager. "In the ideal world, we would ship software that every single person has the best possible experience with. But there's lots and lots of different configurations."

    Vendor solutions to upgrade woes
    Compaq: Identifying potential problem systems on its Web site and providing necessary driver downloads.

    Dell: Offering custom upgrade solutions for each system, based on PC service number; providing necessary files for downloading; identifying that systems cannot be upgraded.

    IBM: Posting potential problem systems on its Web site and providing necessary driver downloads.

    Gateway: Providing phone support; shipping Windows 98 companion CD-ROM and booklet with all Windows 98 upgrades; no Web support offered yet.

    HP: Making phone support available, with plans to expand Web support to include providing files for downloading.

    No one knows that better than the companies that make the PCs. Dell Computer, which is providing custom information to its customers based on the service number of the system purchased, indicates on its Web site that it will not provide drivers for notebooks sold more than 18 months ago. --IDC's Dan Kusnetsky Some Dell notebooks "will offer minimal performance under Windows 98." Accordingly, "Dell will not provide driver updates."

    Gateway is shipping a CD-ROM and upgrade booklet with every copy of Windows 98 in order to help guide users through the upgrade process. Like Dell and others, incompatibilities exist with some of the power management features Windows 98 offers.

    In fact, one Gateway notebook, the Solo 2500, is shipping without the new power management feature enabled, Gateway confirmed. With this feature, a notebook PC uses less power, allowing the PC to run longer when on battery power.

    "It's a difficult thing, to hit a moving target. There's been a huge number of PCs introduced into the industry and a huge turnover in the components and peripherals being used," said Mike Flannery, head of product management for Gateway. "We made design decisions long before the Windows 98 feature set was frozen," he noted.

    Other PC makers such as Compaq Computer and IBM also are offering upgrade information on their Web sites, but Dell's site currently offers the most extensive interactive information for its customers. "Dell's been in lockstep [with Microsoft] in getting information out as fast as we can," said a company spokesman.

    Companies like Gateway and Hewlett-Packard have not yet updated their Web sites to include upgrade information. Both will do so in the near future, company representatives say. Until then, their customers will have to rely upon offline help like phone support.