Software // Enterprise Applications
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1/7/2004
11:19 AM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
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The Explorer: AOL 5.0: The Upgrade of Death?

The Tests
Because I knew from reader mail and from painful personal experience that upgrading from 4.0 to 5.0 often brought major trouble, I decided to try a clean install of AOL 5.0.

I started with a new Windows installation on a test machine -- a PII/400 with 128MB of RAM. The basic setup I used is one I've perfected over time; it's a simplified, known-good software foundation that I developed for all manner of hardware and software tests.

That known-good foundation is built on Windows 98se and includes all to-date patches and updates, plus the latest versions of Internet Explorer (5.01) and Communicator (4.7) which connect to the Internet via a speedy LAN connection. The setup has a minimal complement of additional software installed; it's a lean, very clean install with extremely few external variables in the mix. I keep a full "disk image" of that known-good setup so I can repeatedly start from the exact same, known-good conditions when I'm running tests.

With this setup, and using IE, I surfed to the AOL.Com Web site and clicked on the button for "ALL NEW AOL 5.0! Click HERE For 250 Hours FREE!" That started a remote install process by which AOL first sniffed my system to see if I had a previous version already installed. (I did not.) Then, the AOL site offered me several ways to get a copy of its 5.0 software; I choose to download the 12.6MB setup file. When it was finished downloading, I clicked on it and started the setup.

Throughout the setup, I accepted the defaults -- I didn't alter or force-fit the AOL software in any way. But when the setup was done and the AOL software first tried to run, it crashed. I got the message that WAOL (the guts of the AOL software) had caused a fault in Kernel32.dll -- a core part of Windows.

Rather than proceed with a mangled copy of AOL, I reformatted and restored the known-good disk image, and repeated the same steps (including the initial download) from scratch. This time -- I have no clue why, because everything was identical -- I didn't get the WAOL fault and was able to get online to the AOL service. Because I was trying to find out what AOL was changing on my machine, I did nothing online -- I didn't access any part of the AOL service beyond the opening screen, and did nothing that would change the initial setup in any way. In fact, as soon as I'd successfully connected to AOL, I immediately logged off. AOL then determined that I needed updates to my brand-new setup. It automatically downloaded the updates, and restarted the AOL software.

I then shut down AOL, rebooted, and used several software tools to see what had been done to my system. (If you've installed AOL on your system, you can check C:\America Online 5.0\Install.Log to see the bulk of what was done to your system. I used that Log file, plus several other tools.)

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