- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2000

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon and I had nothing else pressing, so I reformatted my hard drive and installed a new operating system.

Well, it really wasn't that simple: I'd been having some problems with my PC these past few weeks and stripping down the system to its barest essentials and then rebuilding things made sense.

Under Windows 98, this had its hassles, as I'd discovered earlier in the week. For one, my video and networking card drivers were totally lost; I had to find these on a "system save" portion of the hard disk, which is assigned a different drive letter ("D") and then unzip the compressed files and install the correct drivers. This can be a hit-or-miss proposition, though my computer maker's tech support department guided me through the procedure.

Now fast-forward to Windows ME, the "Millennium Edition" of Microsoft Windows, promised earlier this year as a consumer alternative to Windows 2000, an operating system aimed chiefly at business users. While some other reviewers have faulted Windows ME for not being a total revamp of Windows (that's coming later), and others bemoaned the small number of improvements, I wasn't put off.

Indeed, after my latest tear-down-and-reinstall, a spirit of adventure seized me and I slipped a Windows ME disc into my system. What the heck, I thought, I'll try a newer operating system and see what happens.

It would be a good experiment, since it would be possible to see some of the things this new operating system promises: faster start up, more reliability and some enhancements to Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser and the Windows Media Player. I was also looking for any other advantages I could find.

Installing the new software was just about painless. It went very quickly (under an hour) and the software-installation process offered no major challenges. Some pluses of the new system revealed themselves instantly: Windows ME located and installed drivers for my network card, my video card and monitor, which meant that, after the software was installed, I could instantly log on to the Internet (via my cable modem) and had a screen display that was crisp, clear and adjustable, as opposed to my reinstallation of Windows 98, which lacked these drivers. For me, the less I have to reinstall, the better; thus Windows ME passed a first test.

There were other pleasant surprises. The Windows ME interface looks a bit more like Windows 2000: the "search" dialog box for finding files (or, for that matter, text within a file) was another match, as was the dialogue box for saving files, and the dialogue box for shutting down or restarting a system.

Boot up and shutdown were also faster than under Windows 98, but this might have been because the reinstall flushed out a lot of older files (no longer needed by Windows) that had slowed things down.

Internet Explorer didn't look much different from before, save that the Microsoft Messenger "instant messaging" software is built in. The new Windows Media Player, however, is rather cool: it found and played my media files in a jiffy, as well as offering a nice Web radio "tuner" with which I could find stations easily.

Copying files from CD-ROM discs to the main system also seemed faster, as did other mundane tasks on the computer, such as starting programs, closing them and moving files around.

While it's "early days" for this user and Windows ME, I must say that this new software is impressive. Would I spend the $70 to $90, or thereabouts, being asked to upgrade a Windows 98 or Windows 95 installation? Probably not, unless I was tired of my Win98 system choking and stalling and crashing during the course of my day at the keyboard. Then, I would look seriously at this software, and probably be happy with the results. If I were buying a new home computer, I'd insist on Windows ME from the get-go.

• Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; e-mail [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.markkellner.com.

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