Let's start by agreeing that Windows 98 is not as good as it could be. But danged little is.

If I insisted on pure excellence in my life, I'd have to stop eating in the cafeteria here at work, would give my golf clubs away and would never again sing in the shower.And Windows 98, despite its quirks and problems, is better than earlier versions and one heck of a lot better than cafeteria Salisbury steak. So instead of sulking, let's spend today talking about some of the ways you can get the most performance out of Windows 98. The good news is there are simple ways you can improve the speed and reliability of Windows.

The first item is the only one on my list that costs money, but it's probably the best way to get more out of Windows 98: Add more RAM. If you now have 16 megabytes or less, you'll get a noticeable performance increase.

Just last weekend I upgraded a friend's machine by adding 32 megabytes of RAM. I didn't shop around to get the best price, and yet I paid just $60 for two 16-megabyte chips. Installing them amounted to poking the chips into two vacant slots. After five minutes' work, the computer was noticeably faster.

For most home users, 64 megabytes is about all the RAM needed. There are some speed increases after that, but if you were graphing the improvement, the slope would level off dramatically there.

Once you have that much RAM, there's a second adjustment you should make. Double-click on the System icon in the Control Panel, select the tab labeled Performance, and then select File System under Advanced Settings. Take a look at the box that says: Typical Role of This Computer. Yours probably says "Desktop Computer." If you have 64 megabytes or more of memory, change that setting to "Network Server." Without going into a long explanation, that setting will help your PC use that new memory most efficiently.

Next, let's remove a Windows 98 feature that slows your computer down. Right-click on a blank space on your computer desktop. Then take a look at the item called Active Desktop. If there's a check box by the item labeled View as Web Page, then click to remove the check mark. Now click on the desktop again and select the tab called Web. Click on the Folder Options button. You'll be asked if you want to save the settings and view Folder Options; click on Yes. Now you'll see three choices for the way folders are displayed. Select "Classic Style."

What you've just accomplished is to remove the much-touted Windows feature of navigating the program in the same way you navigate the Web. That feature works just fine but - when all is said and done - isn't all that helpful and slows most computers down dramatically. Since it's easy to switch back and forth, at least give both methods a try and decide for yourself. It's my guess you'll end up deciding you like the speed gain of removing the Web-like navigation. After all, you probably spent $2,000 or so for that fast computer. It seems dumb to slow it down.

Next, make sure you've switched your hard disk to the new FAT32 system. You can check by selecting Drive Converter (FAT32) from the System Tools group under the Start button. If the disk has already been converted, you'll get a message that tells you that. If it hasn't been converted, do so. Once you've done that, make sure to run the Disk Defragmenter program at least once a week. Unlike earlier versions of the defrag program, this one has enough built-in intelligence to arrange your programs on the hard disk so the ones you use most frequently load faster.

These tuneup steps won't make Windows 98 into a perfect program. But they will give it the opportunity to run as fast as possible on your machine.