Tuesday, May 27, 2014 at 7:52 pm
Though the Windows Me upgrade itself costs as little as $49, there’s another price to consider: Dozens of utilities and other apps designed for earlier versions of Windows won’t work with the OS (see “Using Windows Me–the Hidden Costs of Upgrading,” page 52, for a list of the most prominent). If you plan to keep using one or more such programs under Windows Me, you’ll need to expand your upgrade budget to pay for new versions–or at least allocate time for lengthy downloads.
And those aren’t the only difficulties. By mid-December, a search of Microsoft’s knowledge base (search.support.microsoft.com/kb) for the text Microsoft has confirmed this to be a problem’ retrieved 200 incompatibilities, “issues,” and other difficulties that the company blames on Windows Me. Searching for the same text for Windows 98 yielded the same number–which probably indicates that 200 is the upper limit on records returned by the site’s search engine.
But the same search directed at Windows 98 SE identified only 184 items. And although this data provides only the roughest of measures (we don’t know how many problems have been found for Windows Me and Windows 98 in total, for starters), we can say that Windows Me has generated more problem reports in less than three months than Windows 98 SE has in more than a year.
Most of the 200 problems that our search uncovered don’t afflict previous versions of Windows. They range from the silly (a pointer problem in Hasbro’s Tonka Search and Rescue) to the stupefying (system freezes when you switch between an MS-DOS window and Me’s Full Screen mode).
Several upgraders reported an incompatibility between Me and the Point-to-Point-Protocol-over-Ethernet (PPPoE) DSL software commonly used by DSL providers. At least two major services, Verizon and BellSouth, were working on Windows Me updates as of mid-December.
Microsoft has long touted the Windows 9x family as the OSs most compatible with both new and aging consumer hardware and software. So why the compatibility issues in this swan-song edition?
Microsoft consumer Windows product manager Tom Laemmel attributes the absence of some drivers to a combination of factors. More-exacting compatibility testing washed some older drivers out, and a number of manufacturers simply didn’t submit new drivers to Microsoft in time for inclusion with the upgrade.
You can still pull out your device’s installation CD and reinstall those older drivers after Windows Me is up and running. But if you own a digital camera or scanner, you will almost certainly run into another difficulty: The new Windows Me Imaging (WIA) subsystem is incompatible with manufacturers’ Win 98 software. You can reinstall the older software, but you can’t use the features of WIA.
STABLE, BUT INCOMPATIBLE
SIMILAR incompatibilities cause other “no-run” situations. Windows Me’s System File Protection feature makes the OS more stable by monitoring key system files in real time to ensure that no one– and no program-changes them. Several applications that want to change those files therefore can’t run under Windows Me. The vendors of most such apps have released Windows Me-compatible upgrades, but typically you must pay for the new versions.
Finally, some readers report that Windows Me failed to identify and install drivers for several of Microsoft’s own mice and keyboards. This problem extends to the company’s software, too. For example, although he was satisfied overall with Windows Me, reader Troy Clarke reports that his keyboard began to malfunction after he installed Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 5.5 Service Pack 1.
HEALING THE HURT
CLARKE WAS undaunted by the update snafu with Internet Explorer 5.5 however. In previous versions of Windows, attempting to remove an Internet Explorer version upgrade or service pack didn’t always succeed–the bugs checked in, but they didn’t check out. This time around, instead of uninstalling Service Pack 1, Clarke simply rolled the system back to its pre-[SP.sub.1] state, using Windows Me’s new System Restore feature. Dozens of readers lauded System Restore’s ability to undo buggy software installations.
“System Restore alone is worth the price of the upgrade,” writes Douglas Emerick of Langhorne, Pennsylvania. When an application that he installed somehow disabled his computer’s USB ports, Emerick says, System Restore saved him hours of troubleshooting.
But not everyone in our informal survey had a good experience with System Restore. “It didn’t work,” reports Gene Adamski of St. Augustine, Florida, adding that a dialog box simply announced that the system could not be restored, providing no further explanation. Other users say that they had to disable System Restore because it demanded too much space on their hard disk.
In addition, many of the readers grouse about Windows Media Player 7, calling it a slow, crash-prone memory hog that has proved to be no match for such leaner, meaner players as MusicMatch Jukebox, RealPlayer, and Winamp –or even for previous versions of Media Player itself.
Likewise, readers report little interest in the limited Movie Maker video-editing software, with many objecting to the fact that the operating system installs it by default. Others grumbled about how it saves video only in a proprietary Microsoft file format.
As if software incompatibilities and lackluster extras were not enough, Windows Me’s reduced MS-DOS support angers other readers. Many of them express confusion over the details: You can still run DOS programs, open a DOS prompt Window, and issue certain commands, but you cannot boot the computer directly to a DOS prompt (except from a start-up floppy disk that you can make from within Me), and you cannot reboot in MS-DOS Mode.
DOESN’T DO DOS
WINDOWS EXPERTS who were accustomed to using DOS text commands for backing up, editing, and restoring the Windows Registry in previous versions can do so no more. And those are not the only command-line tools that won’t work in a DOS box under Windows. Many of the existing antivirus, disk-maintenance, and hardware-configuration utilities won’t function with Windows Me either.
FOR SOME READERS, such fundamental changes are reason enough not to upgrade. Donald Matschull, business manager for a church in Plano, Texas, says he’s not interested in Me because it means training people to use and support a new OS.
Matschull says he’ll resist replacing his aging Windows 95- and 98-based machines as long as new computers are available only with Windows Me or Windows 2000 preinstalled. He resents the way the industry abandons old OSs when new ones come along. “I question the efficiency of new technology that forces workers to relearn procedures they already know,” he comments.
With readers reporting such a broad range of experiences, it’s hard to offer definitive advice to prospective upgraders. At the very minimum, you should take a careful look at Microsoft’s step-by-step upgrade guide at wwwmicrosoft.com/windowsme/upgrade/checklist.asp before you buy Windows Me. In particular, visit the hardware compatibility guide (www.microsoft. com/window sme/upgrade/compat). In addition, be sure to download and install the latest Windows Me–compatible drivers for your hardware, if they are available.
CAUTION: DON’T BURN YOUR BRIDGES
IF YOU DO decide to perform the upgrade, be careful not to skip the steps that enable you to return to your current version. More than one respondent to the PC World survey lived to regret their failure to back up the old configuration and drivers before performing a clean install.