I never heard back from the tech support folks I thought might be able to help me with my PC problem. (Actually, I didn’t really think they could help, but the call was free, so what the hell?)
I called Microsoft—I had gotten their hours wrong and called two hours before they were scheduled to close (or perhaps stop taking calls). I was asked for a product ID and learned that I was eligible for two additional incidents at no charge. (I had used one of three free incidents, apparently.) Happy day!
Of course, I was put on hold. Microsoft’s on-hold music is not my taste, but it wasn’t too irritating. I booted into safe mode while I waited for help. Eventually, Angela answered. Because she had an accent, I occasionally had to ask her to repeat something she said, but she was friendly, competent, and, above all, patient.
I won’t go into everything we did (and undid) on my computer. (I lost count of how many times we went into and out of safe mode.) Suffice it to say, the call lasted 2 hours and 40 minutes, and it looked like we were doomed to failure near the end, though Angela had seemed quite upbeat until that time. Finally, however, we were able to restore the system to a stable state from a couple of days ago using a feature I did not know existed in Windows 98 and which Angela warned me is not for the fainthearted.
So, in the end, I got free tech support from Microsoft that solved my problem, even though it took nearly three hours. Of course, I hold Microsoft responsible for causing the problem in the first place, though I should have been more skeptical of the driver download that caused all the trouble. I will recommend aggressive use of Windows Update to unsophisticated users with less enthusiasm in the future.
It’s good to be back on the Internet with my computer.