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Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, Windows ME Beta 3 is a surprisingly decent product, proving that the old Windows 9x code-base is far more resilient than previously expected.
It's been a while since the last What I Use, but there haven't been many major changes since late last year: Surface Pro 3 has become my go-to travel companion, I've added a third cellphone line for testing Windows Phone, Android and iPhone side-by-side, and have rotated through some new tablets and other devices. With a new brushed steel skin for Apple's newest operating system, this new Media Player version opens the world of Windows Media 9 content to Macintosh users, enabling them to access the best audio and video on the Web.
New plug-in support added for Internet Explorer, Netscape and Safari enables playback of Windows Media files right from the browser. Optimized specifically for the Macintosh, the player provides intuitive design, reliable performance, and compatibility with most popular Macintosh models and system software.
There are simple changes, such as a tweaked and simplified user interface based on Windows 2000, but the big changes are all under the hood. So I pulled the trigger on an unlocked Windows Phone flagship that will hopefully take me through at least the first half of this year. Registered users have access to the quickest possible download speeds and can also access additional community features such as our "Download Alert", which automatically notifies you when a new version of this software is available. For example, Windows ME offers a host of reliability improvements that will benefit any Windows 98 user, including System Restore, System File Protection, and the removal of Real Mode DOS. Wil je een geluidsbestand juist langzamer afspelen, gebruik dan de toetscombinatie Ctrl+Shift+S. And despite the questionable bundling of an enhanced Media Player and a movie editing application in a day and age where the company is being sued by the U.S. Als je weer terug wilt naar de normale afspeelsnelheid, dan druk je tegelijkertijd de toetsen Ctrl+Shift+N in.
The following systems were tested with Windows Me Beta 3: Dual processor Celeron 500 with 256 MB RAM (Windows Me only sees one processor).
This system includes a Voodoo3 video card, Microsoft USB speakers, a SCSI CDR drive, two 13.6 GB IDE hard drives, an IDE CD-ROM, a USB keyboard and mouse, an HP LaserJet 5P printer, and a Diamond RIO 500 media player.
Windows Me was initially clean-installed onto this system; later, a clean install of Windows 98 SE was upgraded to Windows Me. We encourage you, however, to determine whether this product or your intended use is legal in your country. This system includes a USB scanner, a 6 GB IDE hard drive, an IDE CD-ROM drive, and a USB mouse.
0 MB RAM, a 4.3 GB hard drive, IDE CD-ROM drive, PC card-based network card, USB ZIP 100 drive, and a docking station. Some noteable problems: The 3Com Fast Etherlink 16-bit PC card in the laptop was not properly detected (I needed to install the drivers from 3Com's driver disk) and the USB mice were useless during the DOS-based portions of clean installs, forcing me to use the keyboard only. However, I did encounter two Setup issues that I do consider serious; these are discussed below.
Otherwise, the process is amazingly similar to the Windows 98 Setup, requiring the same mind-numbing number of reboots (Figure).
When you upgrade a Windows 9x machine to Windows ME, Microsoft retains the desktop icon layout that was used previously (in other words, My Computer will appear on top of the screen, instead of below My Documents, where it typically appears in Windows ME, Figure). But unlike Windows 2000, the Windows ME Setup spews an unwanted collection of icons on your desktop, including MSN setup, Online Services, Windows Media Player, and Connect to the Internet (Internet Connection Wizard), which is especially curious since most people upgrading to Windows ME will have already set up Internet access (Figure). And Windows Media Player is elevated to a new position of power with a separate icon in the Quick Launch toolbar in the taskbar (Figure). So I rebooted the system with the reset switch and Setup continued as if nothing had happened. After a few mouse clicks and a short wait, your system is upgraded, no muss, no fuss (Figure). And given the improvements in this release, which I discuss below, this may very well be a no-brainer upgrade for many users of Windows 98. It should be noted, however, that most people will not install Windows ME in this fashion: The vast majority of Windows ME clean installs will be performed by PC makers, not end users. And the next-most popular install, an upgrade from a previous version of Windows (discussed previously) is fairly straightforward. To install Windows ME on an empty hard drive, you'll need a Windows 9x boot disk of some sort (I expect ME to include such a disk in the full edition), as the CD-ROM isn't bootable like the one included with Windows 2000. And the first stage of the Windows ME installation uses the same basic ugly Setup program that Microsoft used for Windows 98 and Windows 98 SE, further cementing this release's true heritage (Figure). This stage of Setup presents all of the user prompts you'll need to answer, however, which is a nice improvement. After the first reboot, an ugly VGA rendition of the upgrade user interface appears and installation continues from there. Of course, the DOS-based install doesn't support USB devices from the get-go, so I was unable to use the USB-based IntelliMouse Explorer on two of the systems during setup, but this wasn't unexpected.


When Setup is complete (after three reboots), you're asked to logon if you have a network card (Figure) and then you're presented with the stock Windows Millennium Edition ("Windows ME") desktop (Figure).
Windows ME didn't correctly detect my PC card NIC, as described above, or the 3dfx Voodoo 3 in my dual Celeron 500 system, but it detected just about everything else, including a USB ZIP 100 drive. Curiously, the Balloon Help from Windows 2000 is missing in Windows ME, where such a feature would be far more appropriate.
The cascading Start menu (Figure) is personalized, like that in Windows 2000, so that the OS will display only those programs that you most frequently access. New additions to the Start menu include a host of lame Internet games (Checkers and the like), Windows Movie Maker (which cannot be enabled or disabled in Setup, curiously), and System Restore. Icons for Windows Explorer and MS-DOS Prompt, like their Windows 2000 equivalents, have been moved into the Accessories group, no doubt in a bid to reduce visual clutter. The My Computer window (Figure), for example, does away with the slew of icons displayed in Windows 98, leaving only the drive icons and Control Panel behind. And when you open a drive in My Computer, you're presented with an HTML-based "nag screen" that blocks your view of the drive contents (Figure).
While I understand the point of this type of thing, I can't help but think that most people will be turned off by such an intrusion and will simply disable the feature.
In Control Panel, Microsoft has attempted to actually provide a front-end to the most-often used applets (Figure). And on one occasion, I had to repeatedly reopen Control Panel simply to re-enable the HTML front-end.
While I appreciate the gesture, this needs to be completely reworked: As it is, the Control Panel front-end is completely brain dead.
There are many more Taskbar and Start Menu Properties than Windows 2000 user received, however, and the Help system (described below) is a huge change over any previous versions of Windows. But overall, the general look and feel is very familiar and few, if any, revolutionary changes are present. This isn't all bad, of course: For the hundreds of million of Windows 9x users out there, Windows ME will be an easy transition.
This means that people are listening to music on their PCs, listening to music and watching videos across the Internet, storing images from digital cameras and scanners, and even making their own videos. Now available in Windows Me, this special folder also takes on new prominence with Start menu accessibility and more integrated hooks into the operating system. For example, you can launch scanners and digital cameras from the My Pictures folder now, and Windows Me even supports the ability to stream the images in My Pictures as a screensaver-like slideshow (Figure). And like its equivalent in Windows 2000, My Pictures still supports a special thumbnail view mode while providing an automatic preview of each image as they're selected. Like My Pictures, Windows Media Player 7 has been elevated to a new level of importance within Windows, right down to a new icon in the default Quick Launch toolbar. To users of previous versions of Windows Media Player, version 7 is confusing a big: It now features a host of new features designed to allow it to compete with the big players in the market, such as Winamp and RealPlayer. As such, WMP 7 sports an integrated Web-based Media Guide, a CD audio interface for music CDs (Figure), a RealJukebox-like media library (Figure), an Internet radio tuner (Figure), support for "portable devices" (but not my beloved RIO 500, at least not yet: currently WMP7 only supports Windows CE-based PocketPC devices), and even a skin chooser (Figure). The most radical skin, and the one that Microsoft likes to show off, features a green head with slide-out ears containing various options (Figure).
It's trippy and creepy for those of us over 30; no doubt the targeted audience will eat it right up. For audio enthusiasts, WMP7 also displays various "visualizations," which present undulating graphical representations of the music playing. It also raised some bugs on my Celeron 500 system, which sports dual CD drives: The track listing for a music CD would only show up in WMP7 when I placed a CD in the first of the two drives. While I'm sure that the more sophisticated digital music users out there will turn to their program of choice as usual, WMP7 is more than enough program for most users. It's hard not to be cynical about WMM, as Apple Computer introduced similar, but more full-featured movie editing software in its Mac OS last year. But unlike Microsoft, Apple is committed to desktop video and the company sells a $1000 professional version of the software that it bundles for free with the iMac. Meanwhile, the Microsoft solution reads like a shovelware tie-in designed solely to satisfy a feature checklist. Since I don't have a FireWire-capable camcorder (who does?) I tested WMM with a decidedly sickly-sweet Brittany Spears video (gotta remember the target market here) and came away unimpressed (with the video too) with the awkward interface.
The default My Computer window and desktop are both Internet-capable, though Microsoft has continued the old double-click launching paradigm used in previous versions of Windows (Web-style single-click is, however, an option). Microsoft realizes that many home users are now Internet connected or want to be, and the desktop is littered with Internet-related icons from the first boot. And, as always, a slew of online services are at the ready, with a more prominent placement for the in-house MSN service, which has become more and more interesting over time.


Other than that, most of the new features in IE 5.5 are developer related and thus uninteresting to 99% of the planet. But I've crashed this browser repeatedly in just a few days of use, and that's not very promising. Unlike Windows Movie Maker and Windows Media Player 7, MSN Messenger is an optional component and you can actually uninstall it if desired. But for users of Hotmail especially, MSN Messenger is a godsend, and it works well, if only for providing a quick pop-up when mail arrives.
For this scheme to work, of course, you will need the appropriate networking hardware (at least one network card, or NIC, for each machine, cabling, and a hub).
Of course, this type of thing requires a bit of work on the hardware and configuration end, but Microsoft provides some good instructions in Help and a nice Home Networking Wizard for configuring a home network for connection sharing (Figure).
There are also a number of Internet games--Checkers, Backgammon, Reversi, and the like, that you can play online with Microsoft's MSN Gaming Zone (Figure). But one area that Windows Me pulls ahead involves its online help, called Help and Support, which provides a wide range of online hooks so that the support information you have available to you in Windows Me is always up to date (Figure). Falling into the same category are AutoUpdate and Windows Update, two system reliability features that, like Help and Support, are described in a bit more detail below. On the downside, however, you can no longer boot into DOS or shutdown to MS-DOS as you could with previous versions of Windows: The only way to boot into a command line with Windows Me is to use a boot disk.
To test this, I installed WordPerfect 6.1 for DOS (Figure)and Duke Nukem 3D (Figure), an excellent DOS game that brings back memories. Not only do these programs run in Windows Me, but they run fine in both full-screen and windowed mode (this includes Duke Nukem, incidentally, which even supported sound on my USB speaker system, something that didn't work in Windows 98). Essentially an automated protector for key system files, SFP ensures that an errant application doesn't overwrite important files on your system, ensuring a certain level of stability.
System Restore will automatically create "restore points" so that you can return your computer to a previously known good configuration. But you can also manually create a restore point, say before you install a suspect application, so that you can return your system to a good state if things go bad (Figure).
The System Restore user interface, like Help and Support, is HTML-based and friendly enough; I think it's a welcome addition.
AutoUpdate will, optionally, allow your system to keep itself up-to-date automatically by checking the Windows Update Web site for updates (bug reports, security fixes, even driver updates) that are specific to your system (Figure). Unless you're extremely nervous about a Microsoft program polling the Internet regularly, I highly recommend this feature (Figure). Framed by the elegant Help and Support, which sports a surprisingly well-done HTML user interface, help is only a mouse click away in Windows Me (Figure). Early versions of Help and Support were ugly and hard to navigate, but the version in Beta 3 is a huge improvement.
On the other hand, Windows Me does suffer from its legacy roots: I've crashed the OS down to the metal several times and the sheer number of times it must reboot--after a networking change, for example, or an application installation--has me yearning occasionally for Windows 2000. But Windows 9x users are used to this trade-off and Windows Me is definitely more stable and reliable than its forefathers. Microsoft includes a new Home Networking wizard, which will make sure your system is on a network and configured properly (Figure). Then, you can setup networking and Internet Connection Sharing, and create a Home Networking Setup Disk that can be used to setup the other systems on your network (assuming they're running Windows 95 or 98 only). But none of this is required: If you're savvy enough to set up a few IP addresses and subnet masks, Windows Me networking support is virtually identical to that in Windows 98, and I was able to connect it to a variety of clients and servers on my home network (Figure). But there's also a heady hardware requirement, which is partially offset by the new home networking kits that various manufacturers are just now making available. Microsoft tells me that its working with major network hardware makers to create home networking packages that are designed specifically for Millennium; expect to see them begin appearing later this year.
Unfortunately, Microsoft has no plans to offer a public release of Windows Me Beta 3, which is a shame: I expect that many existing Windows 98 users are clamoring to get their hands on this build. Expect the final release of Windows Me in early June, with retail availability in mid-July.
Prices are expected to be in the same ballpark as Windows 98 SE, though final pricing has yet to be determined. Windows Me requires a Pentium 150 with 32 MB of RAM; I recommend a Pentium II 300 with at least 64 MB of RAM.



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