Windows Me, new hardware to improve Windows gaming experience

The next version of Windows 98--Windows Millennium Edition ("Windows Me")--will be the ultimate operating system for gamers, says Windows group product manager Shawn Sanford. And with the popularity of the Internet and Internet-based gaming booming, Windows Me is poised to help the PC widen the gap over game consoles. Specifically, Windows Me will offer the hardware and software compatibility that users expect from Windows 98 while increasing reliability.

"I feel we have made improvements that will deliver benefits to both game players and general users overall," says Sanford. "Windows Millennium Edition will increase hardware support, enabling consumers to take advantage of the latest innovations from graphic cards to joysticks. With work done in the areas of stability and performance, the overall experience with a Windows Me PC will be improved."

And unlike consoles, most PCs are connected to the Internet, offering a wider variety of gaming possibilities.

"Windows Me makes it simpler to connect home PCs to each other as well as to the Internet," he says. "Before Windows Me, connecting PCs wasn't nearly as easy as it should have been. With Windows Me, we're opening the door for people to use technology to make gaming more alive. We think it's a great example of using technology to benefit the home user."

"The Internet removes the barrier of physical locations to play games," he adds. "Users can play games of all types with other users from all over the world."

One gaming feature that was recently pulled from Windows Me, however, was the "Application Manager and Game Options" tool, which was designed to aid users in the installation and management of games. The theory was that games that supported the Application Manager would allow Windows to manage their disk space usage, so that frequently used games got the space they needed, while infrequently used titles would be pared down to save space. It was a horribly convoluted idea that relied on game makers supporting the feature. Needless to say, no one was interested and the feature was removed. I wrote about this feature in my review of Millennium beta 2. (See this screenshot for details).

Clearly, Windows Me will provide the hardware and software compatibility that gamers have come to expect. Windows 2000, which was released last month, is still at least a year away from offering this level of support to the gaming community.

On a related note, Microsoft Corporation announced three new gaming hardware devices, the SideWinder Game Voice, SideWinder Strategic Commander, and SideWinder Force Feedback 2.

"Our goal is to bring an environment to PC gaming in which gamers can truly feel they are part of the action," says SideWinder lead product manager Chris Bull. "These new devices move gamers closer to that experience."

The SideWinder Game Voice device is a stereo headset that will allow gamers to communicate while playing LAN or Internet-based games. Additionally, it supports voice commands that can be mapped to keyboard or joystick functions so that you can say "fire", for example, and have a weapon fire. The SideWinder Strategic Commander is a left-handed gaming device designed for strategy games such as Age of Empires that feature six programmable buttons, three shift buttons, and a variety of profiles. Finally, the new SideWinder Force Feedback 2 joystick takes its place as the top of the line gaming device in the Microsoft stable, offering over 100 force effects, a rotating handle, a throttle, and programmable buttons. It also comes packaged in a smaller unit than its replacement, which was gigantic.

These hardware products will ship this fall, probably in October. Windows Me is expected to ship in late May

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