I'm Going Back to Windows 98
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I'm Going Back to Windows 98

The title for this article is a tad sensational and exaggerated -- my current plans for the future actually involve migrating towards using two separate computers. The primary one will be my 1999 Compaq running Windows 98 SE (or a computer running Windows XP if that fails), and the second will be a modern computer running some variant of Linux (likely Kubuntu) for tasks that I absolutely cannot accomplish on the primary computer.

The first statement in the previous sentence likely sounds like the preposterous proclamation of a madman to anyone reading this, and the latter a confession of a perfidious infidel to at least one wonderful regular reader. Hopefully, by the time this article is over, this plan will make at least a little bit more sense.

My current PC is running Windows 8.1, which I switched over to after very begrudgingly giving up my beloved Windows XP when it went off support. As I may or may not have mentioned previously, I have been using computers since the halcyon days of Windows 95, and as such, have had a front seat view of the operating system's steady evolution (and devolution) from that period.

I am now facing down the barrel of installing the dreadful windows 10 (I do not want to even grace this filth with a proper capitalisation) when 8.1 goes off support in 2023, and being subjected to its abominable user interface, unprecedented Orwellian spying, lack of customisation, and constant forced updates that break everything.

Having thought about what my next move will be, I have come to the conclusion that either switching to Linux or going back to the golden age version of Windows will be an improvement over surrendering whatever freedom 8.1 still deigns to allow me by installing 10. With the utterly deplorable state of modern Windows, this is no longer about putting on a life jacket and clambering into a rowboat to escape a sinking ship. The ship has been consumed by the maelstrom and is now resting somewhere at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. with nary a functional rescue ship in sight may I add.

The situation is not as dire on old Windows versions as one may assume. For one, if I absolutely cannot make it work with Windows 98 SE, I still have safe havens in multiple Windows XP computers. Although I am not terribly informed on the current situation on that front, doing some brief research via DuckDuckGo led me to a plebbit link that paints a relatively optimistic picture. The OS is still very much usable even now, and there even exists a fork of Pale Moon that still runs on it!

I found a second such guide in the form of a website called Windows XP Forever. There's even a cute little website dedicated to helping people keep their Windows 95 installations usable long after the expiration date passed in 2001. Every old version of Windows has touched the hearts of people, and inspired many creative and talented programmers and hackers in those groups to work towards keeping it usable for as long as possible.

One important tool that extends 98's life is the divine tool known as KernelEx, which is essentially a program that allows one to run programs intended for Windows 2000 and XP in Windows 98. While not a very high bar anymore, this does expand the pool of available programs on the operating system enough to allow one to run the K-Meleon browser or an old version of Opera or Firefox. This obviously is not enough to run new-fangled HTML5 trash, or anything else of that sort, but to me that seems like a positive. Last I was online from my Windows 98 PC, I could still use search engines and so far as I can remember, even use Amazon.

I do not have any social media accounts (unless Neocities counts) and would sooner flay myself until I lose consciousness than subject myself to the overflowing, festering intellectual toilets that are modern social media websites. If ever I become desperate enough to get on social media, I will probably use LiveJournal or Gab, but I don't see this ever coming to pass. Neocities lets me scream into the void, lets me decorate my screams to my heart's content, doesn't censor me, and doesn't track me and sell my information to marketers who in turn harass me about buying useless products. What more could a cat want?

In spite of the saturation of bloated modern websites filled to the brim with advertisements; narcissistic "brand-building" drivel; and fancy scripts, there is also still a wonderous Web 1.0 web living thriving beneath the garbage, like the survivors of a horrific nuclear cataclysm sheltering in the metro system while the ravenous, radioactive mutants ravage the streets they once lived and worked in. That was a Metro 2033 reference, yes.

I must confess that I have not yet taken the time to see how my website or Neocities websites that I follow render in K-Meleon on Windows 98 so I am still unsure of how I will be faring here. I anticipate dealing with some accessibility issues even here on Neocities, and having to tweak my own website in order to be more compliant with old HTML4 and CSS standards. Nonetheless, I am confident that I will have a large pool of websites to continue to explore, both here on Neocities and via the Web 1.0 portals that are Wiby and Curlie. If I am forced to traverse a website that 98 or XP cannot handle, I will use the Linux machine.

There are a number of other ways to tweak 98 to make it capable of interfacing with modern websites and programs. This, as an example, is a guide I located in my notes from when I was modernising my old Compaq. The artificial 512 MB RAM limit can be bypassed to allow Windows 98 to utilise a full 4 GB of RAM using a patch, as is detailed here. Regrettably, any higher than 4 GB will never be achieved because there is no 64 bit version of Windows 98 and even if the source code ever leaks, it's doubtful that there will be enough people interested in accomplishing the monumental task of creating one.

Another major issue is, of course, gaming. The obvious lack of ability to play any remotely modern games is not something that I see as a problem. The DOS and Windows 9x games of my childhood - Commander Keen, Jazz Jackrabbit, Crystal Caves, Raptor Call of the Shadows, Doom, ZZT, Wacky Wheels, Xargon, Pickle Wars, and so on - still provide me plenty of entertainment whenever I indulge in them. Conversely, I can probably count the number of modern games that I still had any interest in after playing them for half an hour on my fingers.

It's also worth mentioning that out of those listed games, Commander Keen; Doom; and ZZT, all have a veritable cornucopia of fan-made games/mods that were created for them, that massively extend their playability. Speaking of Doom, since this article is largely about nostalgia for Microsoft's golden age, I am obligated to include a link to this utterly glorious presentation that they made to advertise Windows 95, for anyone who has not yet seen it. It's Bill Gates in a trenchcoat superimposed into Doom95, shooting zombies with a shotgun while talking about how great Windows 95 is.

Now even I will admit that there are some very high quality modern games beneath all of the rubbish, that I wouldn't want to permanently lose access to. I consulted with a very good friend of mine who is a long-time Linux user, and was informed that not ony do many games already have native Linux ports, but a great many others can also be run on Linux using Proton - a program that Steam created using WINE. It is obviously imperfect due to being an translation layer, but I'd rather deal with imperfections in my video games than deal with the oppressive and hideous nanny state operating system that is Nu-Windows.

At this point, many of you (I may be overestimating the amount of people who read these) are perhaps wondering why I cannot just stubbornly stay on Windows 8.1 forever. The prime reason is the realisation that it's past time for me to build a new, more powerful computer for myself, and will thus need to start from scratch anyway. I have no intention of ever using windows 10, so I will be stuck on a version that's no longer supported in less than 2 years, and as such, I may as well return to a version in which I do not have to use a third party firewall to force Windows to desist from making constant, mysterious connections to Microsoft servers, and which I can actually customise to my liking.

As I mentioned in my personal principles on web design article, Windows 98 came with something called Windows Plus!, which contained a variety of high quality themes that the user could decorate their computer with. A rich smorgasbord compared to the four themes that Windows XP offered, and the even more paltry offerings that came in later versions.

More importantly, customisation in Windows 9x was inclusive of everything from the individual colours of every part of the interface, every sound the OS made, the icons of all major folders, the screensaver, and the wallpaper. In contrast, here on Windows 8.1, a "theme" constitutes changing the wallpaper, along with a single colour in the UI. I've said it before, and I will say it again - I never imagined I would see the day when my (backlit) keyboard is more customiseable than my operating system. Sad!

While the offerings that Windows Plus! contained are timeless, the abundant customisation options inspired many fans of the operating system to create their own themes for everything from DBZ to Tenchi Muyo to Christmas. ThemeWorld, a major repository for such themes, is still standing as of this writing in case anyone reading this wants to get a glimpse of the glory of the old Windows.

I should also note that even if one chose not to install Windows Plus!, Windows 98 still offered what I personally consider to be some of the greatest screensavers in computer history by default. Windows 8.1 on the other hand... let's just say that I had to pause writing this and check to see if it even had screensavers because of how insipid and forgettable the default offerings are. I installed the two screensavers linked in this paragraph to remedy the situation a long time ago and forgot about the default ones entirely.

Even the default icons and the overall look back in Windows 98 were, in my opinion, a colossal step above the plain and bland look of the versions that came after it. The clouds aesthetic instilled in my child self, an unforgettable sense of how awe-inspiring and revolutionary the new frontier of computers and the Internet was. I was excited just to see the computer turn on and the operating system boot up every morning. The cartoonish, corporate look of Nu-Windows inspires as much awe as an empty vending machine.

As magnificent as all of the themes in Windows 98 were, the customisation did not stop there! There was a feature called "folder customisation," that allowed you to set a custom background for a folder, and even use HTML to further customise it! While many would dismiss this as a goofy and useless feature, it worked wonders towards make one's operating system feel like a "home", and I don't see it as any stranger than someone decorating their room, or decorating their desk at work. My computer, my choice! In contrast to all of this, modern Windows does not even allow the user to arrange the icons inside their folders to their liking.

And that leads me to another odd thing about modern Windows - starting with either Vista or 7, the folders "My Computer", "My Documents", "My Pictures", and so on were renamed to no longer contain the "My" prefix. I was informed that this has always been standard procedure on other operating systems, but the conspiracy theorist in me finds it quite curious that this change came at the same time that the OS was morphing into an awful nanny state version of itself. It's as if it was Microsoft's way of telegraphing that they no longer consider your computer and your files to be "yours" any longer...

I vividly recall hearing about the advent of chromebooks - useless toy computers created by the dreadful Google, that run an operating system that works in such a way that everything done on the computer is done and stored remotely on a google server somewhere. I dismissed chromebooks as a laughably misguided joke that could never take off, and was flabbergasted when I learned that they were selling like hotcakes. My shock increased even more when I saw that windows 10 - the grotesque final form of the Nu-Windows beast - was nearly as bad as the chromebook operating system in terms of user privacy and freedom.

When I began using computers, Microsoft felt like such an indomitable group of visionaries that for a time, my child self foolishly believed that Bill Gates invented the computer itself. It appears that as the years and decades went on however, they experienced such great creative rot that the best they could hope to do was to borrow the failed ideas of their competitors. Turning windows 10 into a wannabe chrome OS was one such instance of this, and turning Windows 8 into a wannabe mobile operating system while pushing the utterly laughable idea of replacing keyboards and mice with touchscreen monitors was another.

It's clear to me that Microsoft has ceased being a visionary and a leader long ago, and is now naught but a buffoonish follower that can only push out droll imitations of its competitor's products. Perhaps there is a method to all of this madness, and it's intended to condition us towards the "Great" Reset and its "you will own nothing and you will be happy" agenda. Regardless of the intent, I refuse to be a part of this any longer.

I will close this rant by saying that as I watched Windows change over the past 25 years, I also had a chance to witness the growth of its competitor Linux. My first tango with that operating system came when I installed one of the derivatives back in 2006, an excursion that left me with a very unpleasant impression of the operating system after I struggled endlessly just to install drivers for my hardware on it. Since then, I've used it extensively on multiple personal servers, and on a Kubuntu virtual machine.

While Windows stagnated and mutated into a shadow of its former self, Linux has consistently become more and more usable and powerful, without losing the freedom and customisation people flocked to it for. As I mentioned earlier, it is now perfectly possible to even play a great many modern video games on Linux, a milestone that would've been utterly inconceivable in the past.

While my heart will always be with the Windows that I grew up with, I am confident in saying that Linux has surpassed and even eclipsed Windows in many regards, and is undoubtedly the best choice for an operating system today, for anyone who has not been driven mad with nostalgia like myself. For any Windows loyalists who take umbrage with this statement, just know that I would've likely had an even harsher reaction to hearing someone say this even 5 years ago.