Microsoft Windows Millennium Beta 3

While Beta 3 has come a long way from Beta 2, it's business as usual below decks. Windows Me may look like the relatively crash-proof Windows 2000, but it sits atop the same shaky MS-DOS foundation as Windows 95. With many of Windows Me's innovations available as free downloads (including Internet Explorer 5.5 and Windows Media Player 7), you may want to pass on the upgrade, which is slated to ship in the second half of the year.

Calling all media

Windows Media Player 7 cribs features from several leading free and shareware players, most notably Nullsoft's Winamp. Media Player searches your drives for media files (MP3, WAV, and CD audio files; and AVI, MPEG, and QuickTime video). It uses an online database to organise audio files by artist and recording. It can rip or convert CD audio to Windows Media (WMA) files stored on your hard disk - but it can't create the more widely accepted MP3 files, a bit of Microsoft arrogance that could drive Windows users to third-party rippers that do support MP3.

Other Windows Me innovations won't be offered as free downloads. If you have a scanner or digital camera that works with Microsoft's Windows Image Acquisition interface, a software/hardware standard somewhat akin to the popular TWAIN, you'll be able to scan or select images over a simple cable connection - no need to download them to your hard drive first. Microsoft says more than half the digital cameras on the market will be WIA-compatible when Windows Me ships.

Mini-editing room

If you're the family videographer, Windows Me's Movie Maker could turn you into an auteur. Though less full-featured than packages such as Avid's Cinema, Movie Maker allows you to assemble camcorder or VHS clips into short movies, complete with audio tracks (your computer must have a video capture device and a roomy hard drive). But Movie Maker can't export the movies back to tape - it can only save them in Microsoft's ASF file format.

Windows Me boasts other enhancements: it can save the current memory state to disk and resume later, or it can return to the configuration of a previous day. Unlike Windows 98 SE's improvements, most of these won't have a big impact on your quality of life.

Microsoft Windows Me Beta 3

Price: $TBA

Phone: 13 2058

URL: www.microsoft.com

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