Livingston looks back on 10 years of tips

My first InfoWorld column appeared at the end of June 1991, so it's my 10th anniversary. I promised my readers they could nominate their 10 favourite columns - but rather than merely looking back, I'll explore how these topics affect Windows users today.

My first InfoWorld column appeared at the end of June 1991, so it’s my 10th anniversary. I promised my readers they could nominate their 10 favourite columns — but rather than merely looking back, I’ll explore how these topics affect Windows users today. You can read the original columns (the ones published after 1995) by going to BrianLivingston.com and clicking the correct link under Window Manager. This week, the first three:

DLL Hell

I invented the term “DLL Hell” after a series beginning in September 1996. Those columns revealed that 90% of the Windows 95 crashes diagnosed by an astute consultant were caused by conflicts between DLLs. One application had quietly installed a different version of a DLL than another application needed.

I was amazed years later to read a Windows 2000 advertisement that promised “no more DLL Hell”. Microsoft was bulletproofing its system DLLs, and all but admitting that Windows had a problem. The fix, now known as System File Protection, was later incorporated into Windows Me.

Today’s impact: Although some Windows flaws remain, DLL Hell has been much reduced.

The breaking point: Windows 3.1 wasn’t afflicted by DLLs as much as Windows 95, making its frequent crashes harder to diagnose.

The problem was Windows 3.1’s “break points” — small but crucial memory objects. When an app needed a break point but they’d all been used up, Windows got hosed. On January 24, 1994, I published the undocumented command MaxBPs=768. Inserting this line into System.ini’s 386Enh section doubled the available break points.

Scores of readers proclaimed their PCs cured. Even better, a Windows program manager later told me he’d received a copy of my column from Bill Gates himself, with the note, “What the hell is this sh*t?”

Today’s impact: Microsoft never released a patch for Windows 3.1, but Windows 95 was fixed and all subsequent versions have been fixed, providing all the break points your apps will ever need.

The cobbler’s children have no shoes

Re-posted on more web pages than any other column was the one in which I revealed that my own PC was far from perfect. Indeed, I wrote on April 14, 1997, that my machine crashed at least once or twice a day.This was meant to make the bulk of my readers feel better about their own problems. Boy, did it work. People sent tons of empathy and advice. I eventually found that a component had shorted, and replacing the motherboard fixed everything.

Today’s impact: I hope Windows sufferers worldwide don’t feel quite so alone in their woes.

Next week, more of your Top 10.

Livingston is an Infoworld columnist. His latest book is Windows Me Secrets (IDG Books). Send tips to Brian Livingston.

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