by September 5, 2000 0 comments

Windows ME RTM

Features: System Restore; System Files Protection; ships with IE 5.5, Windows Media Player 7, and Movie Maker.
Pros: Support for latest drivers; integrated system recovery options.
Cons: None.

This is the final release of the latest version of Win 9x–some
even call it the end of the 9x series–Windows ME (Millennium Edition). We’ve
already reviewed the Beta version of this OS (see PC Quest May 2000, page 151).
Based on the same Win 9x kernel, it supports both 32-bit and 16-bit
applications. We didn’t find it very different from Win 98. Here, we’ll take
you through what we did find out.

The test machine we used was a PIII/500 MHz on an Intel
440BX-2 motherboard with 64 MB SDRAM, a 4.3 GB HDD, and a 15" LG
Studioworks monitor. For the sound and graphics, we had the Creative Sound
Blaster Live! Platinum sound card and an Asus V3800 RIVA TNT2 graphics card
respectively. Our network adapter was an Intel 82558 EtherExpress Pro.

The Home Networking wizard helps you set up your own small network and share resources connected to your ME machineOpting
for a custom installation and selecting all the components indicated a disk
space requirement of 646.2 MB. In comparison, on a Win 98 SE 4.10.1998, the
custom installation, including all the components indicates 346.9 MB. Copying
the files took about 13 minutes and after three installation sequence reboots,
ME was up and running. It also installed the correct drivers for our graphics
card, which means that it automatically detected the card in the system. This
wasn’t the case with the earlier Win 98 OS. All our hardware components were
working after the install. So conclusively, they’ve put in a pretty updated
list of device drivers.

We also tried upgrading Win 98 to Windows ME. During the
upgrade, we selected the option through which we can revert to Win 98. We faced
no issues in working with such an upgraded system. We also tried uninstalling ME
using Control Panel>Add/Remove programs and could return to our earlier Win
98.

We checked out ME for application compatibility by installing
many popular ones on it. This was a two-part process. First, we installed Office
2000 and MS SQL Server 7 on it, which went without a hitch. We then installed a
range of third-party applications like StarOffice 5.2, Corel Draw 9, Adobe
Photoshop 5, , Paint Shop Pro 6, Winzip 7, Opera–a Web browser, Netscape
Communicator, Getright–a download manager Netsonic–a browsing accelerator,
and ICQ. Most of these installed smoothly and worked fine. However, some
incompatibilities might remain with smaller applications and utilities. We faced
this problem after installing Netsonic. The program kept prompting to restart
Windows, and yet wouldn’t run. It didn’t uninstall properly either.

Speed and stability

Windows ME, as said in the Beta review, doesn’t support a
real DOS mode–that is, you can’t restart the machine in full DOS mode. In
the Windows Startup menu–the one you get when you press F8 during boot-up–the
Command Prompt Only option has been removed. Also the Restart In MS-DOS Mode
option has been removed from the Windows Shutdown menu. However, you can create
ME’s startup disk, which is similar to a DOS boot disk, for booting into DOS
mode.

Microsoft claims that removing the DOS mode would improve
startup time. This could be the case, because you don’t have any DOS-based
programs loading during boot-up. However, on the same configuration, we found
our Win 98 SE system booting a bit faster. We’d kept the autoexec.bat and
config.sys files empty in Windows 98 SE, so as not to load any boot-time
DOS-based programs.

A new feature being incorporated in newer BIOSs is the Fast
Boot. It’s claimed that this feature, when working in conjunction with a
supporting OS, may bring down the start-up time. Microsoft claims a start-up
time of as low as 30 seconds for an ME system in that case.

Internet and intranet

IE 5.5 and MSN Messenger install with ME itself, but Personal
Web Server is not a component any longer. Configuring your Windows ME PC on your
existing network is more or less the same as you do with your Win 98 machine.
Whereas Windows ME beta lacked support for networking protocols and clients
except those of Microsoft’s, the final release has added Novell client and IPX/SPX.
Supports for IBM and Banyan are again omitted, as with the beta release.

A Home Networking wizard has been added to the Communications
menu, which can be used to set up your own small network. The wizard walks you
through the process and you can choose the ME machine to either act as a host or
as a terminal. The host can share resources like an Internet connection,
printer, files, etc. It also helps you create floppy disks to allow other Win 9x
machines to connect to the Windows ME system.

Play a variety of multimedia using Windows Media Player 7 that ships with MEMultimedia
and games

ME ships with Windows Media Player 7, which can play
multimedia formats including MP3s, WMA, and VCDs.

There’s also an application called Movie Maker, which can
be used to create slide shows by editing audio and video. It can also be used to
capture video–with appropriate video capture hardware–from VCRs and other
devices.

Movie Maker can be used to create slide shows and capture video from VCRs and other devicesA
separate applet in the Control Panel lets you set up devices like scanners and
digital cameras.

In the Beta review, we said that we were unable to play the
games meant to be played over the Internet, like Internet Backgammon, Checkers,
Reversi, etc. But with this release, we were able to connect to the games server
and play. Apart from the usual Win 98 games, Space Cadet Pinball and Spider
Solitaire have been added in ME.

You can play games like Internet Checkers, that come with ME, over the InternetME
installs DirectX 7.1 by default, which enables you to play the latest games with
full feel. We tried playing games like Quake III Arena, Unreal Tournament Demo,
Half Life Opposing Force Demo, F22 Raptor, Moto Racer, Motocross Madness 2 Demo
and Fifa 2000 on ME. Comparing the frame rates on ME and Win 98 SE, we got
almost similar results.

New system recovery utilities

System Restore takes snapshots of your system at regular intervals, enabling you to revert to your last-saved state when there are system problemsWindows
ME includes two new features–System File Protection and System Restore. System
File Protection (SFP), which always runs in the background, recovers any deleted
or corrupt system files, like important system DLLs, without user intervention.
However, it doesn’t repair your system registry, or any other files, which are
meant to be modified by installed applications.

The System Restore feature automatically takes a snapshot of
your system, every time you install or uninstall an application. It also takes
such snapshots every ten hours of continuous operation. If 24 hours have elapsed
since your last snapshot, it takes another one. If needed, you can take a
snapshot manually at any point of time you wish–a feature that wasn’t
available in the Beta release. Thus, in case of a system problem, you can revert
to your last-saved system state without having to resort to other repair
measures.

Other features and modifications

The dial-up networking and printer applet have been removed
from My Computer and have found a place in the Control Panel, in an attempt to
put all the configuration options in one place.

ME’s Control Panel now includes applets to setup dial-up networking, printer, scanners, and digital camera The
Finder and Help System have been given a Web browser-like look and feel.
Assisted Support is now a part of the Help system. It helps you in getting in
touch with Microsoft Support professionals via either the Web or phone, in case
of problems.

An Automatic Update feature appears in the taskbar, which can
be used to update your ME and its components over the Internet. However, before
an update is done, the System Restore takes a system snapshot.

The screensavers and themes are same as those in Win 98,
except for the addition of a customized Windows ME theme.

Windows ME has support for numerous latest devices like
FireWire and Universal PnP connecting devices. These can be connected to your PC
on the fly.

The Windows ME CD we received was not bootable. It would help
in the installation if it were bootable.

Do
you need to upgrade?

If you’re happy with your existing Windows machine, you
might want to stick to that, and may not gain much from an upgrade to Windows
ME. Applications like IE, Windows Media Player, Movie Maker–or applications
with similar functionality–are available for free downloads on the Internet.
Utilities like Norton and others offer more features than the System Restore and
SPF in Windows ME. Also, you may like to stick around with your trusted
utilities till the time ME really catches on in the market.

But do expect newer PCs to come preinstalled with Windows ME,
especially those with the Fast Boot BIOS.

Shekhar Govindarajan

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