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Feature - Software - Opinion

WINDOWS ME - A Quick Glance at Features and Glitches

by Molly Ruggles

Windows Me - Yes? No? Why? Why not? - Bonnie Bucquqeroux

So you've made the plunge and either upgraded to Windows Millennium operating system or you've found it pre-installed on your new computer. Is that good news or bad? In my experience, the new "Win Me" offers benefits, but it turned out to be a bit more than I had bargained for.

Microsoft marketed Windows Me as the next logical extension in the Win 95 to 98 chain. The company touts it for "home use," citing 10 reasons why it is an improvement. The main advantage for Web professionals is that the new System Restore function allows you to "roll your system back to the state it was in when all was well." Microsoft also re-designed the Windows Explorer menu to help you avoid deleting or damaging critical files.

But Windows Me also requires adapting to some new constrictions and "protections." While these changes are meant to enhance system reliability, they can be quite frustrating, especially to users who are accustomed to digging a little "under the hood."

Dealing with the differences

One immediate difference you are likely to note is that many Windows Me folders have "hidden view" as the default setting. This is true, for example, in the Windows/System folder.

Win Me is trying to be helpful by warning you to "be careful if you modify the contents of this folder." For the most part, it is a good to have a reminder before proceeding further. And it is easy to click past this warning and move ahead to whichever folder or file you wish to access.

However, at a certain point, you will actually reach some bona fide barriers in Win Me, and these walls can present some real hurdles. For example, some of the file permissions are set so that you can no longer have the control and flexibility that you had in the Win 9.x world.

I ran into problems after re-installing MS Access 97 on Windows Me, when I discovered a nasty bug prevented me from launching the program. Access persisted in claiming that I did not have a registered copy of MS Access 97 on the machine, even though I was perfectly 'legal.' (I had entered the appropriate serial number and product code when I did the re-installation.)

A quick visit to the Microsoft Knowledge Base informed me that this was a 'bug' in Access 97 re-installs and that the fix required that I:

  1. rename a certain font in the Windows/System Directory,
  2. re-install Access 97, and then
  3. restore the font back to its original name.

After following those instructions, I then discovered that Win ME simply would not allow me to rename fonts. Ouch! What to do?

The good news is that there is a workaround, and not a bad one at that. Although I could not rename the font, I could delete or move it. So I temporarily moved the font to a remote folder on my system, did the re-install and then put it back. It worked fine; the bug was fixed.

At the time, I fumed at Microsoft for such a strict system of file permissions. However, in retrospect, the logic does make sense, and here's why: You really don't want to re-name a font. It is one of those elements that actually needs its name for consistent identification purposes. So I do agree with Microsoft's constriction in this case. And as I ultimately discovered, there is an adequate work-around.

A note to ASP or Cold Fusion users: If you use Microsoft's Personal Web Server (PWS) on your computer to test ASP or Cold Fusion applications, you need to know that Windows Me is, at least currently, incompatible with PWS. There may be workarounds, but a quick tour of the Microsoft site failed to uncover any information on whether it is safe to do so.

Am I a user or a beta tester?

Perhaps one of the worst aspects of using the "latest and greatest" is that we find ourselves acting as guinea pigs, weaving our way through the bugs, fixes and glitches. I found myself feeling like an involuntary Technology Pioneer -- forging into as-yet-uncharted territory. While we can always choose not to upgrade our computers, those who are buying new machines often do not have any choice but to struggle through the inevitable shakedown cruise.

It helps to find groups of users grappling with and solving similar problems and bugs. As of yet, there appear to be no boards dedicated to Win ME users, but a post to the following newsgroups - comp-os.ms.windows (and their subgroups) - can yield postings from savvy Win Me users.

On the benefit side: those "persnickety" Win Me default settings are truly safer and therefore allow for some healthy double-checking. And for tech support people, Win Me allows for some of the rock-solid file protection of NT desktop without having to deal with the complicated infrastructure of NTFS (NT File System, one of the file systems for the Windows NT operating system).

Win Me offers helps and hints for the novice users - ones that the experts can easily pass over. In comparison to the Win NT-2000 alternative, however, I recommend Win Me for almost everyone. It is enough like Win 98 to make the transition fairly easy.

Photo of Molly Ruggles

Molly Ruggles is a seasoned tech support professional and fledgling web developer living in the Boston area.

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