Feature Article
Millennium edition 

By Vade Forrester; reprinted from the July, 2000 issue of the PC Alamode 

Windows Millennium Edition, usually referred to as Windows Me, will succeed Windows 98 and add several attractive new features for multimedia, as well as utilities to make it more reliable. Microsoft has not announced a firm shipping date, but expects to release the next version of its home user operating system later this year. Although Windows Me is designed for the home user, like Windows 98, it will find its way into many small offices, where its lower price (expected to be the same as Windows 98) and greater hardware compatibility may be an advantage over Windows 2000. Windows Me has completed three beta test cycles, and is currently in Release Candidate 1 version. That means the error-trapping code of the beta versions has been removed, and the features have been finalized. Unless significant problems are discovered in the Release Candidate 1 version, the next version should be the one that ships to dealers. Since this article will reflect features and capabilities in the third beta version, the final version may be slightly different.

Windows Me will look like Windows 2000, which is a very minor evolution of Windows 98, so youíll see only a few small changes. The Help and Support Center looks quite different from previous Help systems and is easier to read (hooray!). Windows 98 instituted an HTML Help system, but it looked just like the Windows 95 version, and was equally murky. Windows Meís Help and Support Center looks like a Web page, is better organized, and includes tutorials and Help in a single location. An Assisted Support tab lets manufacturers add their own section to the Help Center. Theoretically, this feature can be a big improvement over standard hardware manuals, which are often wretched. 

Windows Me will have personalized menus, which means you can probably set your menus to show only those features you commonly use. The Control Panel in Windows 98 is replaced by a cascading menu in the Start menu (Start/Settings/Control Panel). 

Internet Explorer 5.5 will be part of the Windows Me package, unless the Department of Justice decrees otherwise. Itís supposed to be faster, and will offer a print preview for Web pages you decide to print. Itís already available as a beta version you can download.

If you often use the DOS mode, be warned Windows Me makes it harder to do. Although most DOS programs still run, Microsoft has taken great pains to hide direct access to DOS. Several of the DOS commands that worked in Windows 98 ó no longer do. The Restart in MS-DOS Mode choice in the Shutdown menu is gone. The DOS Format command no longer works. Neither does the Command Prompt Only mode when you hold down the Control key when booting up. For most users, those things wonít matter, but for command-line commandos, they may be a good reason to stick with Windows 98.

Multimedia and Imaging improvements
Windows Movie Maker is a new video editor thatís part of Windows Me. It is a fairly basic editor, which captures video from your camcorder (assuming you have the requisite hardware), and lets you do some basic editing like rearranging and deleting scenes. It also provides a very compressed file format to store video files or post them on the Web. Microsoft says 24 hours of video will only need 1 GB of storage space. Microsoftís endorsement of a compressed file format is likely to make it an industry standard, which is theoretically good. I suspect that advanced video hobbyists will find Movie Maker too basic, but for the casual user who only wants to make home movies on the PC to send to friends and family, or business users who want to include video clips in PowerPoint, Movie Maker will be a great addition.

Media Player 7 claims better quality streaming sound and video. A CD ripping feature lets you copy music files from a music CD and store them in a compressed format. However, it only produces Microsoftís own format, not the very popular MP3 format, a definite drawback. However, Media Player 7 will play back MP3 files. And Media Player 7 has a wide variety of "skins," which change the way Media Player 7 looks. Some of these options are Goo, Optik, and Pyrite. Media Player 7 is currently available as a beta version, but I have read accounts of unreliability, so I would recommend passing for now.

Inexpensive scanners and digital cameras are becoming commonplace, and Windows Me offers a new Windows Image Architecture (WIA) to make them easier to use. A Picture Acquisition Wizard provides the ability to manipulate and store still images from digital sources. Itís not clear to me if the WIA replaces the TWAIN drivers that have been the mainstay interface between still imaging devices and computers. 

If you are one of the increasing number of computer users who wants to network several computers at home, or in a small office, Windows Me provides a Home Networking Wizard that makes it easy to set up TCP/IP and Internet sharing on a peer-to-peer network. 

Bored with Solitaire? Windows Me offers new games, including Backgammon, Checkers, Reversi, and Spades, while retaining Windows 98ís current games. All of these games can be played over a network, and a feature called DirectPlay Voice lets you chat via voice while playing multiplayer games.

PC health
Windows 98 has been more prone to crashing and locking up than Windows NT and Windows 2000. PC Health is a collection of several new Windows Me features to provide greater reliability. One is called AutoUpdate, which automates the Windows Update feature available in Windows 98. Operating in the background, AutoUpdate will download Critical Updates and ask if you want to install them. Iím not sure this really provides more protection than the current Windows Updateís current automatic notification of Critical Updates. Windows Update will still be available for manual updates, including non-critical updates.

System File Protection automates Windows 98ís System File Checker. It monitors vital system files, and if a badly designed program tries to overwrite one of these files with its own version, System File Protection restores the old, authorized version. A possible drawback is that Windows Me doesnít tell you when itís doing that, or offer you a chance to tell it you prefer the new file. If you download a Critical Update from Microsoftís Web site, will System File Protection prevent it from being installed? Hopefully not. 

Have you ever installed a new program or driver that really screwed up your computer? System Restore acts somewhat like the GoBack program by letting you roll back the configuration of your PC to a point when it was working well. It takes a snapshot of your system every 24 hours, or after ten hoursí continuous use. You can then roll your system back to the way it was at the last snapshot. A snapshot, or restore point, is taken before every Critical Update is installed, just in case it is not compatible with your computer. It also creates a restore point when you install a new program. And you can manually create a restore point, which I highly recommend you do before installing a new hardware driver. System Restore does not work with data files like GoBack does, so only your program files and registry settings are protected. 

Whatís missing?
In the third beta version of Windows Me, there was no Active Directory client, which will make it unable to connect to Windows 2000 Serverís directory. This is truly odd, since Microsoft has announced an Active Directory client for Windows 95 and Windows 98. 

Should you upgrade?
That depends. If you were planning to upgrade to Windows 98, consider waiting for Windows Me, which should be along in the fall. If you already have Windows 98 SE, consider whether Windows Meís new features really appeal to you. Windows Me has gone through considerable beta testing and should be relatively bug-free, but there are always some combinations of equipment that are incompatible with a new operating system.

Forrester has been a member of Alamo PC since 1988. He served on the Board of Directors from 1990-1993 as Vice President of Information and Public Relations, First Vice President and President. He has since continued to serve Alamo PC as a frequent contritutor to PC Alamode, as SIG instructor for Windows and Microsoft Word. He enjoys arranging special presentations to the club, such as the Year 2000 presentation given in September 1999 and presentations on topics like Backing Up Your Hard Drive. A civil servant employed by the Air Force, Vade has been a computer user since 1982.