The Windows ME Columns

In the last few weeks I’ve been talking a good bit about Windows 2000 Professional and how impressed I’d been.My experiments during the last week have tended to confirm that impression and I have decided that I’m going to put it on my work machine. It’s slick and speedy and an absolute joy when compared with Windows 98 which I have come to dislike with a passion.

It’s true that I do have some lingering issues around getting all my peripherals to work with it but I’m going to leave a copy of Windows 98 on the test machine for the time being. I’ve started fiddling with digital images which is making Bluebottle, my Pentium 133, creak under the strain. This is the excuse I’ve been looking and so I’ve decided on a new machine, to be called Bluebottle Too, and he’ll have at least 256Mb of RAM, the fastest processor I can afford and W2K.
Only a few years ago I was so impressed with a 486 DX4 100Mhz that I took it out into the street and photographed it. Now I’m going to be scrapping a machine several orders of magnitude more powerful. Makes me wonder what I’ll be replacing Bluebottle Too with in a couple of years time.
There was Windows 95, Windows 98 and now there’s Windows 2000 which doesn’t follow on from there but is descended instead from Windows NT Workstation. Windows 98’s successor in the consumer market is the rather puzzlingly named Windows ME.
Windows ME is supposedly the last Microsoft operating system to be based on the infamous DOS but you’d never guess if you didn’t know. There is no trace of a DOS prompt anywhere to be seen although I believe that hackers have found a way round this already.
A copy of ME arrived the other day, the software, not a clone, and I decided to use it to upgrade Windows 98 on the test machine and see what happened. I was confident that, at least, I couldn’t make things much worse. I stuck in the CD-ROM and ME went onto the machine like a rat up a drainpipe. All I had to do, more or less, was to enter the serial number, put in a stiffy disk when told to do so, and sit back and let it get on with things.
Installation took just under 50 minutes and, when it started up, it introduced itself with a really cool video which led to a screen where you can get details about the new features in ME and even try them out. I was most impressed that ME managed to install itself without disturbing anything including the dual-boot setup with Windows 2000. It woke up knowing its place on the network and had even selected the screen saver I had been using.
ME is looking pretty good to me so far with ‘so far’ being the operative words. Next time I’ll have a bit more to say on it after I’ve had a chance to play a bit more.
Last week I said that I had installed Windows Millenium (ME) and that I had been pretty impressed with it.
I’ve been fiddling since then and it is still looking like an improvement over Windows 98. There is, so far, still no downside to report and all is well in the land of Eccles the test machine. WinME has a groovy video introduction, but apart from that, it looks so much like its predecessors that a family member sat down at Eccles and worked without noticing the change.
It’s when you dig around under the bonnet that you come across all sorts of new and interesting stuff. I’m undecided about what’ll be my favourite new feature but it’ll probably either be the Help and Support Page or the Spider Solitaire game. The old Windows Help feature has undergone a major facelift and become the Help and Support page which displays links to a number of topics. If you don’t find what you’re looking for there, you can always use the search facility or turn to the index page.
There are a number of WinME tours and tutorials you can take as well as an Assisted Support feature which allows you to search on the Internet for help. One nice touch is that the H&S page remembers the last couple of help topics you viewed so you don’t have to search if you need them again.
There are a number of new games that come with WinME including Spider Solitaire which promises to be extremely addictive. Among the new games are also ones designed to be played only over the Internet. I didn’t try them out but it’s apparently as easy as connecting to the Internet and starting the game you’d like to play. It sounds as though it would be bags of fun to play online but, for me, the thought of my inexorably-growing phone bill would put a bit of a damper on things.
The designers of WinME think that it’s way past time that you got involved with digital media like images, sound and video, so they’ve included a number of extras in the product. Too bad they couldn’t address the high price of the electronics while they were at it.
Included among the new bits and pieces are a Scanners and Cameras folder in the Control Panel, the Windows Movie Maker application, Windows Media Player 7, and a My Pictures folder. The Scanner and Cameras folder is similar in concept to the Printers folder and is where you need to go to add a scanner or video or digital camera to your system. WinME has built-in support for a wide variety of these appliances but you can always add others with the software provided by the manufacturer.
Windows Movie Maker is a program you can use to create your own movies from any combination of stills, sound and video. The program is too basic to satisfy the Spielbergs of this world but it should be more than enough for the rest of us, besides being great fun.
Windows Millennium (ME) continues under the spotlight this week. Besides the new features described last time, WinME comes with the latest version of Windows Media Player which is an all-in-one program for playing sound and video clips.
Not too exciting, I thought, but then I made the mistake of firing it up to take a brief look and promptly lost two hours out of my life while I fiddled with it. It has become a really cool entertainment centre that you can not only use play sound and video but to record CDs, listen to Internet Radio stations, organise all your favourite material into media libraries, and copy music onto portable players.
I plugged a Queen CD into my CD-ROM drive and Media Player not only started to play it but, when I connected to the Internet, it went off and got album and track information for the CD. By way of experiment only, I recorded a track off of the CD on maximum compression and found that it only took up about 2,8Mb of space as opposed to the 30Mb the track would have taken if recorded uncompressed.
When played back over my computer speakers I could detect no loss in sound quality between the recording and the original but I guess you’d be able to tell the difference if you played them back through a Hi-Fi. One of the most interesting features of WMP is the radio tuner which you can use to tune into radio stations from around the world. I tried several, including several South Africa ones.
I found the sound quality to be most acceptable over my dial-up connection but that could be because it was Sunday afternoon and I was the only Internet surfer awake in these parts. Windows Media Player now has skins al la Winamp meaning that you can change its appearance to your taste simply by applying a different skin. There are number of different skins included with it and you can get more off of the Internet.
Another cool Windows ME innovation is the My Pictures folder which displays the pictures you’ve stored in it as thumbnails. This has the potential to save users a lot of time when looking for a particular image.
A feature I particularly like is the system update feature which activates automatically when you first connect to the Internet and, after asking you for permission, will download any updates which become available.
After a couple of weeks without any WinME problems I decided to put it on my work computer to see if it would help after the machine had slowed down to an absolute crawl. It didn’t help very much – the problem turned out to be something else entirely – but it didn’t cause me any problems either.
I like Windows ME very much and think it would be just the job for novices and home users who are into imaging and gaming. People who get it with new systems should certainly not complain.
The 64000 dollar question, however, is whether it is worth paying the price to upgrade existing Windows 95 & 98 systems. In my opinion WinMe is an improvement in terms of speed, stability and usability but users with existing systems may feel that the advantages do not outweigh the upgrade price.
Last time I was just starting to opine that Windows ME was pretty nice when I was rudely interrupted by a sub-editor.
So I’ll take this opportunity to repeat that WinME is pretty slick and that home users should not complain when they get it with a new machine. I also said that existing users might not find it worth upgrading from what they’ve got.
I had just got to the stage of finishing with it and was just thinking of packing it away when I discovered its most useful new feature. I was uninstalling some programs when the test computer hit a flattie and didn’t want to work any more.
I really didn’t feel like reinstalling everything and I was in despair until I remembered reading somewhere about WinME’s System Restore feature which allows you to return your computer to the state it was in before the bad times arrived.
I was very pleased to note that my computer, without any prompting from me, had made a restore point at 3am on the morning before. I was able to return my system to the state it had been in then with very little fuss but, if that hadn’t worked, I could have picked earlier restore points until one worked.
Your machine will make its own restore points but you can make your own and it sounds like an excellent idea to do so before, for example, installing the shareware program from hell.
A colleague found an interesting site the other day ( where you can preview and choose new ringtones for your cellphone. All you have to do is pick the ringtone you want, enter your cell number, country and network operator, and the tune’ll be sent to you.
There seem to be tunes from just about about every genre to choose from and you’re bound to find something to your taste. What did I choose? Well, it’ll probably be me if you’re in a crowd one day and hear a tinny electronic rendition of the Colonel Bogie March from Bridge on the River Kwai.
A potentially very interesting possibility was raised by reader Trevor who pointed me at The guys at Megawan are apparently offering users permanent Internet connections via radio at pretty good rates.
I mailed the company and received the reply that they will be in Durban by the end of the year if all goes according to plan. The monthly fee of around R585 for residential users will get you permanent Internet access and includes the hire of an antenna and a card to plug into your PC.
The company guarantees that, even at peak times, domestic users will be able to attain at least a 64 kilobit connection. That’s not a hell of a lot faster than a conventional modem operating at its peak but, then again, how often do they do that?
Speeds could be very much higher at off-peak times but I was asked to point that bottlenecks will still occur and that slow sites will still be slow regardless of the connection speed.
Sounds fine to me.

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