Microsoft ramps up Windows Me

With the Windows 2000 launch behind it, Microsoft can now look forward to the release of Windows Millennium Edition ("Windows Me"), the final entry in the Windows 9x line. However, Windows Me is also a first for Microsoft: the first version of Windows specifically targeted at home users and consumers, not businesses. Unlike Windows 98 before it, Windows Me will not work in businesses at all; all of its features are geared toward the home crowd. In addition to sporting the basic Windows 2000 user interface, Windows Me will include numerous stability and performance improvements, new multimedia capabilities, and the hardware and software support that consumers expect. But because Millennium is the end of the line for Windows 9x, it's a minor upgrade. Expect bigger changes next year when a consumer version of Windows 2000 "Whistler" ships.

"We are targeting \[Windows Me\] as a more incremental step forward," says Shawn Sanford, the group manager for Windows Millennium Edition.

Windows Me includes a revamped Help system that is based on an attractive HTML interface, a Movie Maker program for working with home movies digitally, and a string of reliability improvements such as AutoUpdate, System Restore, and System File Protection, which is an idea borrowed from Windows 2000.

"\[With System Restore,\] you can actually roll your machine back to the way it was the day before, the week before, or before you last installed software," Sanford says. "There is no timely process of recreating \[the system to\] the way it was before."

Home networking and Internet Connection Sharing have gotten spiffy new wizards to ease the adoption of these features by normal home users, says Sanford, and Windows Me will sport the latest version of Internet Explorer, version 5.5.

Despite rumors that Windows Me would only be included on new systems from OEMs (PC makers), Microsoft says that it will sell a retail version for home users as well. The retail version will be identical to that shipped on new PCs, with one exception: A power management feature called Hibernation will only be included on the OEM version. Microsoft included this feature in Windows 2000 but is having trouble getting it to work properly with the wide range of systems used by consumers.

As for the release date of Millennium, this seems to be up in the air. According to an internal Microsoft memo I've seen, the project release date is May 26, 2000. But with the Beta 3 release slipping to mid-March or later, Millennium might be bumped back to later this summer. Time will tell, of course

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