This is a story about my struggles setting up a new laptop computer to boot two different operating systems. And how I discovered the extent to which Microsoft and IE4 are lacking. Hopefully, someone will learn from this experience and think twice before installing IE4 on there machine.
The first operating system that I wanted to install on the machine was Linux (a free, UNIX like operating system which can teach Microsoft a million or two things about what a stable operating system is supposed to be like). I booted the computer using the Linux boot disks, inserted the Linux CD-ROM into the CD drive and finished the installation in less than thirty minutes. Everything was up and running including the network using a PCMCIA network card. Linux comes with a program called LILO which allows one to decide which operating system to boot when the system is powered up. This was also installed without any problems.
The next task was to install Windows 95 on another partition of the same disk. That is where my nightmare began. (Of course, you may ask why I wanted to do this in the first place. Because I am stupid, thats why). The developers at Microsoft have no regard for other operating systems and have been living in their shells for so long that they could not imagine having two operating systems on the same computer. In any case, after booting from the Windows 95 setup disk, the setup program kept insisting on destroying all partitions from the disk before installing the « operating system ». It gave me only two choices: Let it partition the disk again or Exit setup.
My first choice was to exit setup and try to trick it into installing Win95 on a DOS partition that was already present. So, I went to the « A:> » prompt (LOL) and fired up fdisk. I could see the DOS partition and hence I could format the « C: » drive. I was hoping that after I format the « C: » drive and then try installing Win95 from « Disk 1 » instead of the « Setup Disk », everything will work fine. So, I formatted the C: drive and started the « setup » program from « Disk 1 ». Everything seemed to work fine till the third disk and once again the setup program refused to proceed; this time because of a similar reason which I do not recall.
I was kinda stuck at this point because if I let the Win95 setup program to repartition the disk, it will gobble up the whole disk and would not leave any space for the second operating system. The other option was to use the DOS fdisk utility to destroy all partitions on the disk and create a new partition for installing Win95 and install Win95 before installing Linux. That is the path I took.
So, I destroyed my perfectly working Linux partition and installation and created a new partition to install Win95. This time, the setup program worked without any problems and installed the Win95 operating system on the first partition on the disk. In a few minutes after that I had Linux running once again on the second partition and reinstalled LILO to choose the operating system during startup.
As before, I had no trouble getting the network up and running on the Linux OS. So, I decided to setup the networking on the Win95 side. Guess what, the driver that Win95 installed to access the PCMCIA cards was not working properly. I had to try different drivers (and reboot the machine every time I selected a new driver) and get the correct one by trial and error. (I did the obvious things such as look up the documentation for the computer and install the driver corresponding to the documentation, but that did not work. I had to use a driver that conflicted with the documentation in order for Win95 to access the PCMCIA cards correctly. On the other hand, the driver that Linux was using was consistent with the documentation). Finally, after a long struggle and several million reboots, I got Win95 to see my PCMCIA cards. Linux came with the driver for the Ethernet card that I was using but Win95 had to use the floppy disk provided by the manufacturer (and they say that Win95 supports more hardware).
I have been exposed to all this hype about IE4.0 and such. So, I decided that instead of using the good old Netscape Communicator, I will give IE4.0 a test drive. (Once again, you may ask why I would do such a stupid thing. Now that I have gone through this torture that I am describing, I must say that I will never attempt to give a Microsoft product a test drive just because Microsoft says its good. What was I thinking ?). I have a fast connection to the Internet and hence, the obvious way to install IE4.0 was to download it from the Microsoft home page. You would love what happened next.
My local network is behind a firewall. In order to access the Internet, we need to use SOCKS proxy service provided by the local gateway machine. This is not something that is very uncommon in the present corporate networks (in fact, this might even be the most common configuration). Coming back to my attempt at installing IE4.0, I clicked on « The Internet » icon sitting on the desktop and went through the process of setting up the network properties for the machine. After all the setup was done, I was hoping for it to bring up a browser window for me. But I realized that the first time you click on this program, it only performs the setup. You have to run it again to start the browser. I am not sure why it was set up this way, but I will ignore this for the time being as there are more important things for me to complain about. After bringing up this ancient version of Internet Explorer, I wanted to setup the address of the proxy server so that I could access the Internet and go to Microsoft’s home page. Aha !! The Internet Explorer that was packaged with my version of Win95 does not understand proxies. This meant that sitting there I had no way to access the Internet through my proxy server. I knew that Netscape could do this. So the only way to get IE4.0 on my machine was to install Netscape first !!!!! Even getting Netscape was not easy from within Win95. I had to reboot the machine into Linux. Since Linux came with client programs to access Socks proxy servers, I could get to the Netscape FTP site and download the Communicator for Win95. I rebooted the machine into Win95 and installed Netscape without any problem. I set the preferences for Netscape so that it knew about my proxy server and everything was running fine as far as accessing the Internet is concerned.
I used Netscape to download the « ie4setup » file from the Microsoft home page and fired it up. I will give you one guess to tell me if it worked. You are right !!! It did not even come close to working. The ie4setup file does nothing more than connecting to another server and downloading a bunch of files that are required to install IE4.0. Since I am behind a firewall, it could not find the server. It would be fine if it returned back in a few seconds and told me that it could not find the server. But that would be the right thing to do and Microsoft just cannot do any such thing. Instead, the ie4setup program made me glare at a rotating globe for fifteen minutes before giving up the search for the server. After not finding the server, the programmer had half a brain cell to ask the user for the address of a proxy server. However, this feature of the setup program does not support SOCKS proxy (I tried putting the address of my proxy server but it did not work). Thanks to the people at NEC not all was lost yet.
I remembered reading about the program SocksCap32 which allows Win95 programs to access the Internet though a SOCKS proxy server. So I fired up Netscape again and downloaded/installed SocksCap32. After starting ie4setup through SocksCap32, it could access the servers and started downloading the rest of the files that are necessary to install IE4.0. Just before starting to download these files, it gave me an option of either saving these files on disk or directly installing IE4.0. I had little patience left at this time, so I chose the latter. The ie4setup downloaded all the files correctly and started the installation process.
The installation process continued correctly until about 75% of installation was complete. At this point, I had to leave the computer and go away for several hours. I was hoping that when I come back, this installation will be over. (I am sure you are laughing at me right now).
I came back after about three hours and the installation process had reached 78% !!!!!!! I waited for a few minutes to see if it was doing anything. There was no disk activity and hence I concluded that the program had crashed or hung up. So I clicked on the « Cancel » button to stop the installation. It came up with a window which said that the « cancellation » process will take several minutes and that I should not reboot the machine because that might leave the machine in an inconsistent state (whatever that means). So I waited for it to finish the job. There was no disk activity for half an hour which is also when my patience ran out. I rebooted the machine. When it came up in Win95, it had installed IE4.0 but not many of its components. I was not sure what was going on but soon realized that since the ie4setup was run under SocksCap32, it must have started the rest of the setup under SocksCap32 too. And, knowing Microsoft, it may not have been designed to work under the SocksCap32 libraries.
This meant that I should have stored the files downloaded by ie4setup on the disk and started the setup without using SocksCap32. So, I fired up ie4setup through SocksCap32 once again and downloaded all the files to my disk. After that, I started the setup program from these downloaded files and IE4.0 was installed on the machine without any more problems in just a few minutes. Whew.
Great. Now that I have IE4.0 and Outlook Express 98 installed on my machine, I should start using them. I started up IE4.0 and set it up to use the proxy server. It worked just fine and I could access the Internet. So far so good. Now, I needed to setup my mail account. So, I clicked on the « Mail » button which started up Outlook Express. It asked me for my email address, mail server name etc. in order to setup the mail account. After that, I tried to check for new mail. And nothing. It brought up a window in which it displayed a message that it was trying to connect to my mail server but stopped in a minute with an error saying that the connection to the server had failed !! My POP3 mail server is outside the local network. Which means that one has to get to it through the SOCKS server. Netscape has no problem doing this but at this point, I have not found any way to setup Outlook Express to do this. And this is when I decided to give up completely on IE4.0/Outlook Express/Win95. I am back to using good old reliable Netscape.
I am not sure if anyone in the Linux community will benefit from this but I am sure some of the people « on the other side » can learn something from it.