Kicking tyres on Windows Millennium beta

Some will like the new stuff, others will ignore it, and most will be hard-pressed to point out the differences between this OS and Windows 98 or Windows 98 Second Edition.

We inserted the CD into our Dell Dimension X200 Pentium machine (64MB of memory) and took a deep breath. The Windows installation wizard led us by the hand through the installation process. It estimates that the whole five-step process - from running the setup to copying the files, to setting up the hardware - should take 30-60 minutes.

One prompt asked us if we wanted to save existing files, an option we took because we figure most users will install Millennium as an upgrade rather than as a new-machine OS. Ten minutes later, the setup had saved our existing files in a whopping 110MB of disk space.

We created our startup disk, then took the wizard's advice to "Please sit back and relax while Windows Millennium installs on your computer".

Aside from sitting there and occasionally clicking Next, Yes or No, we found the installation process painless. The worst part was the waiting; it really did take all of about 55 minutes, probably because we had to restart four times.

The first thing we noticed after we booted our new operating system: it looks just like Win 98. Okay, the icons are different, and for some reason Network Neighborhood is now My Network Places. But aside from that, we've not much change to report. So, Microsoft's reviewers' guide in hand, we went looking for the new stuff.

Millennium maintenance for dummies

One new feature that seems to work as advertised is AutoUpdate. While you surf the Web, this tool checks Microsoft's site for any updates your system can use.

It downloads them in the background, and a wizard asks if you want to install the updates. That arrangement is the default, and hands-off people will like this kind of automation. Others will be quick to turn it off, or switch to an alternative method that lets you monitor what's happening. We found it worked without a hitch.

Another new PC maintenance tool is System Restore, which lets you return your system to the way it was at a previous point in time. So if your PC worked fine yesterday, but today you installed a program that screwed up everything, you can go back in time. We restored our system once, and despite having to reboot (the closing window locked up), it worked.

Windows Millennium product managers also claim the shiny new operating system is foolproof. If you delete a crucial system file, Millennium's System File Protection puts it back, unbeknownst to you. We plan to fully test this feature later, but we like the sound of it.

New surfing tools

The OS includes Internet Explorer 5.5, and some of the "new" Internet features reside there. Microsoft claims the system improves performance via "core reliability and performance enhancements". That's hard to determine without rigorous testing.

We tried the new Internet printing feature, which includes a handy print preview; finally, you can alter your Web-based printing specs. Unfortunately, our printed copy looked bad. It might be a driver issue; this beta edition apparently does not have all the drivers yet.

Speaking of drivers, we'll have to get a new digital camera or wait for the next reviewer to check out the promised Plug and Play. A driver for our Umax AstraCam apparently isn't among those in the beta edition. When we plugged it in, we got an error message saying no supported scanners were installed or connected. Then Windows Millennium sent us to the Control Panel, where we saw drivers for quite a few models, including some from Agfa, Casio, Epson, Kodak and Olympus.

Millennium's developers promise streamlined image acquisition and editing through its Windows Image Acquisition technology. Using WAI, you should be able to import directly from digital cameras and scanners, provided that Windows' drivers support the device.

Finally, one promised feature that savvy users will want is the capability to set a system to "hibernate". Before shutting down your system completely, this function takes a "snapshot" that lets the system return to life quickly, which saves time over a cold boot. Microsoft says the feature will work with new PCs with the proper hardware; apparently our older test system didn't qualify because we couldn't even find the option.

We did find a new Standby setting in the Shutdown dialogue box that promises to "maintain our session" while running the computer on lower power. When we tried it, our computer locked up. Maybe next time, or next beta.

Windows Millennium beta

Distributor: Microsoft

Phone: 13 2058

URL: www.microsoft.com.au

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