Review of Microsoft's Windows Millennium Edition


Is it in your future?

There’s been much written lately about Microsoft’s Windows Millennium Edition (Windows ME) based upon reviews of the Beta release, some of it complimentary and some not so complimentary. Some of the critics have stated that Windows ME is far less of an operating system for the new Millennium and more of an update to the Windows® 98 versions, while the less critical have raved over the change in appearance and the added features. In our opinion, critics are just that, “critics”, and they rarely spend enough time with any operating system to learn its features and benefits. Simply put, any operating system that makes itself easier for you to use and maintain, makes your system faster and provides a rich user interface is a substantial improvement. Short of Windows 2000, Microsoft’s Windows Millennium Edition does just that!

Purely from an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) or Technical Support point of view, anyone choosing to do either a fresh installation of Windows ME, or upgrade from Windows® 95 or Windows® 98, will find that Microsoft’s Windows ® Millennium Edition is not a refreshed version. What you will find is an intuitive operating system quite capable of handling nearly all of the hardware installed in most computers since 1994. As for an upgrade, if Windows 95 or Windows 98 is currently installed on your computer and operating correctly, (meaning that you have resolved any hardware and or driver issues before attempting the upgrade), the Windows Millennium Edition will handle the transition beautifully. In an effort to qualify our comments, we ran installation tests on several computers starting with old legacy equipment through to today’s Intel PIII/Rambus equipped systems. You can see what we found by following this link.

In many ways, Windows Me looks nearly identical to Windows 98, and you have to look closely to see the subtle differences at the Desktop, Start menu, and Control Panel. While much of this is borrowed from Windows 2000, when you move through the various menus and options you’ll find many new features and loads of little enhancements that will make Windows Me a compelling upgrade. If you’re a techie type, don’t expect any wild changes to either the user interface or the basic operating system. But what you can expect is a completely revamped installation routine that handles device installations nearly flawlessly, an update routine that handles updates from previous versions of Windows 95 or Windows 98 with nary a hitch and an operating system that can repair and update itself.

What you won’t find is the ability to boot the system into a DOS prompt, and you won’t be able to use either a config.sys or autoexec.bat file as this edition comes with modified IO.SYS and COMMAND.COM files, among others. But, as with most things, changes can be made to accommodate the need for real DOS. Do you have a need for Real DOS in Windows ME?

Probably the single biggest change involves the Health of your PC.

Microsoft’s Windows Millennium Edition includes a large number of improvements that directly relate to the health of the operating system. Since Windows ME still relies on the memory model utilized under Windows 95 and Windows 98, you’re still going to get aggravated with Windows ME as you have with earlier versions when some application causes it to lockup. However, some of the improvements included with this new edition make problem solving and resolution a whole lot simpler.

  • System File Protection.
    This feature protects the operating system programs that change crucial system files and replace them with outdated versions. If you accidentally delete one of the protected files, Windows ME automatically replaces it in the background!
  • Automatic Operating System File Updates.
    Windows Me automatically updates itself, downloading patches from Microsoft while you’re surfing the Net. And yes, if you’re wondering, the patches are only installed if you give your permission!
  • System Restore Utility.
    This neat little utility lets you back up the Registry as well as other crucial system files. In the event that you install a new program or change a device driver and cause your system to start acting up, use this utility to roll back the Registry to a previous point, when things were working properly. This is very much like the Windows 98 “Scanreg” utility but with a more automated interface that allows you to begin the restoration process while still within the Windows “Graphical User Interface”.
  • Help and Support Pages.
    Unlike previous Windows versions, the Windows Millennium Edition has an improved user interface when help is needed to resolve a problem with your system. The Windows Help section is setup in web style pages, are easy to read and use and act very similar to the increasing number of Microsoft’s wizards.
  • Zip/Unzip Utility Included.
    Although we have included this as a health item, in reality it is more of a convenience item than anything else. Windows ME includes its own Zip/Unzip utility very much like Winzip or Pkzip, and it functions much the same way as these two popular programs. The only difference is that you don’t have to download it, you don’t have to install it and you don’t have to register it. A neat little addition that makes compressing one or more files into a small package to be either stored on a diskette or emailed to a friend allot easier. As for health, well anything that makes storing drivers and updates easier is healthy isn’t it?

Another Important change is the Home Networking Wizard.

As we move into the 21st Century we’re seeing more and more homes with computers, and along with this growth in home computing has come an upsurge in the growth of home based businesses. Equally surprising has been the increase in tele-commuting, whereby more and more employers are recognizing the benefits of employees working from home a few days per week instead of traveling to work. Not too long ago it wasn’t surprising to find a home without a computer. Today it’s surprising to find a home without one.

With all of these changes in home and business life styles, the need for home networking has moved to the forefront, and with it the difficulties normally associated with implementing it. If you have two or more computers at home, you’ll appreciate the Windows Me Home Networking Wizard and its improved Internet Connection Sharing feature. With a pair of network adapter cards and a small hub device, none of which is expensive, you can have the two computers hooked together in under half an hour. If you have two or more computers at home and just a single phone line connection to the Internet, you’ll find the Home Networking Wizard and its improved Internet Connection Sharing feature even more inviting as the arguments over who can connect to the Internet and when will be over.

One of the better features added by Microsoft are the Digital Media Tools!

One of the better added features Microsoft included in this version of Windows are tools that enable you work with digital media, such as music, videos, and digital pictures. The included Windows Media Player version 7 plays MP3s and music CDs, just like RealJukebox or WinAmp. As an example, you can copy tunes from CD to your hard disk, and then use the included graphic equalizer to change the frequency response to suit your preferences. The default view of the new Media Player is the typical program window, but it also permits the use of “skins” as shown in the included demo.

The new Movie Maker software will enable you to create video clips from either analog or digital camera links, and with the new compression code, you can pack a fair amount of video into a compact file. If you have a camcorder and a fast Internet connection, this will be a great way in which to share simple videos with friends and family. You will even find some improved tools for managing digital images from your digital camera if you have one.

Internet Explorer 5.5 is included.

Even though Internet Explorer version 5.5 has only been publicly available for a relatively short period of time, it is included in Millennium Edition. Although there is little doubt the Internet Explorer detractors will argue to the contrary, IE 5.5 is more heavily integrated into the operating system than ever before. If you are using IE5 or 5.01, you may not notice the changes as they are extremely subtle. However, it is sometimes these subtle improvements, such as the new Print Preview window, that make every day type things such as viewing and printing Web pages, a whole lot simpler.

While there are many improvements in Windows ME, some major and others more subtle, most can be put into three categories. The first is that of the health and maintenance of your computer. This includes Critical System File Protection, Automated System File Updates, an improved System Restoration Utility, better Help and Support Pages along with more intuitive wizards, and yes, an easy to use Zip/Unzip Utility. There probably should be a sub-category here, as Microsoft has eliminated the MS-DOS portion of the boot (startup) process, which improves the startup time measurably.

Although we have included Microsoft’s use of wizards in our health category, the Home Networking Wizard has to be classified unto itself. The inclusion of this feature in Windows ME is a major improvement over previous versions of Windows, as it permits users with very little or no networking skills or knowledge to build their own home or small business network. We thoroughly tested the wizards ability to detect installed network components, and we’re happy to report that the only time the wizard paused is when we installed a cheap, no-name, six year old network card, and even then the wizard made every possible effort to install it correctly. The number of drivers included with this edition of Windows is amazing.

For those less interested in the technical side, our final category involves the rich multimedia features found in Windows ME. Microsoft has made a major effort to improve support for digital imaging and multimedia, with new software for acquiring images from digital cameras, scanners, making movies, as well as tuning in to streaming audio and video.

Let’s take a closer look at some of these features…

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