Windows Me too

  • Matt Lake (PC World)
  • 01 September, 2000 13:29

Windows Me has some special system protection features that Microsoft is justly proud of. If a new program installation - or a careless tinkerer - deletes or overwrites any crucial system files, Windows Me will automatically restore them. There's also a rollback feature that will restore the system registry to working condition. When you're online, Windows Me will periodically check to see whether there are any system updates and will automatically install them (unless you turn the feature off). But again, other tools have some of these features, too.

Automatic updates

THE WINDOWS ME WAY: By default, Windows Me will automatically update your system when new versions of system components become available. This feature is controlled by a new Control Panel option called, self-evidently, Automatic Updates. If you're leery of such installations being done behind your back, you can click the Control Panel option and elect to confirm any new update before it's installed or you can turn off the automatic update altogether.

THE WINDOWS ME TOO WAY: Windows 98 won't automatically update your system, but it can notify you of any new, critical updates. The program that does this, intuitively called Critical Update Notification, is available at the Product Updates page at Microsoft's site. To download it, select the Start menu's Windows Update option. Click through to the Product Updates page, and check the box next to Windows Critical Update Notification. Click the Download button at the top of the page, and follow the instructions to download the new option. When you've finished, a small program will run in the background, checking for new updates whenever you're online and letting you know when critical ones appear.

Restoring after a damaged configuration

THE WINDOWS ME WAY: You installed a program you shouldn't have, and next thing you know, you can't run your Office software. Windows Me protects crucial DLLs and can help you roll back your Registry with two new features. One, the system file protection tool, is automatic. The other, System Restore, is at Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Restore.

THE WINDOWS ME TOO WAY: But there's more to a hard disk than a few DLLs and the Registry, so why doesn't Microsoft protect all that other stuff? We'll never know, but there are two commercial programs for Windows 95 and 98 that blow away Windows Me's features and can restore all of the overwritten or deleted files on your hard drive. Adaptec's GoBack 2.2 and PowerQuest's SecondChance have greater powers than Windows Me: They can roll back overwritten data files and even undo damage done by virus software. (Though no software will restore the damage done to your reputation if infected love e-mails are sent to your entire address book.) It's possible to download demos of either product for a trial period (GoBack for 30 days, SecondChance for 15 days), though each sells for around $US50.

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Digital cameras are hot these days. So it's no surprise that Windows Me includes better support for digital cameras and an amped-up Windows Explorer that showcases graphics much better. But these features aren't unique to Windows Me.

Digital camera dealings

THE WINDOWS ME WAY: Sick of the so-so software provided with your digital camera? Under Windows Me, you can ditch it by running a new Control Panel wizard that registers your camera as a My Computer icon. You can then treat your camera like any other removable storage device: in Windows Explorer, you can view the contents (complete with thumbnails), delete pictures you don't like, drag and drop the ones you do like onto your hard drive, send pictures as e-mail attachments, and so forth.

THE WINDOWS ME TOO WAY: Windows Me is great if you're in love with Windows Explorer. If not, try the Adobe ActiveShare approach. This free download deals directly with digital cameras, too, adding drag-and-drop file management (including copying, backing up to a Zip drive, and direct e-mail delivery). ActiveShare can also help you touch up your snapshots. Is a picture too dark? Filled with red-eye? A few clicks, and these gaffes are history.

Your images, at a glance

THE WINDOWS ME WAY: Windows Me pumps up Windows Explorer in several ways - and the most eye-catching are those that deal with graphics. Open a folder full of GIFs and JPEGs and pick the Thumbnail view to see little previews of all the pictures, not just of one you've selected (as in Windows 98).

THE WINDOWS ME TOO WAY: Thumbnail views in Explorer - what a great idea. But what happens when you click the images? GIFs and JPEGs will probably open in Internet Explorer, and .bmp files will open in Paint (ick!). A better option for graphics preview and management is a free app from Ulead Systems called Ulead Photo Explorer.

Whereas ActiveShare wants you to import pictures into its album before you can see and work with thumbnails, Photo Explorer is happy to work with your images right where they are. Start this sucker up and pick a folder, and you're previewing all the images it contains. Double-click a particular shot, and you'll see it in its full-size glory. At this point, you can rotate the image, convert it to a different format, or make it your desktop wallpaper.

Like Adobe ActiveShare, Photo Explorer can download pictures directly from your digital camera and offers some online picture sharing services. The only catch with Photo Explorer: after 30 days, the program loses its ability to create .gif and .tif images (which are covered by patent restrictions) unless you pay for product registration. Other image formats remain fully available to you for as long as you keep the software.

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There's more to music in Windows Me than that synthesised Brian Eno-esque concoction that plays when you first run Windows. But if you look below the surface, you'll see that the new operating system can't take all the credit for its "new" features, many of which are available separately.

Playing with audio

THE WINDOWS ME WAY: Microsoft has finally turned Windows Media Player into a program that can play MP3, WMA, and .wav files, as well as CDs and a whole lot of other audio. Media Player 7 also added play lists, and the ability to download CD tracks from the Internet and look up fun sites about your favourite bands while you listen to their tunes. If you get tired of the look, it also comes with different "skins", plug-in interfaces that you can change at will.

THE WINDOWS ME TOO WAY: Surprise! It's Media Player 7, freely available for download by Windows 98 users. (Sorry, Windows 95 fans: Microsoft isn't supporting Media Player 7 on older versions of Windows.) An alternative is the venerable Winamp. Winamp's tiny interface and playlist capabilities are at least equal to Media Player's, it offers a lot more user-built skins, and it plays nicely with Windows 95.

A ripping good CD recorder

THE WINDOWS ME WAY: Want to record some tracks off a CD onto your laptop, so you can leave the bulky CD-ROM drive at home? Windows Media Player 7 can handle this task, too. It saves files in the ultra-compact WMA format that scrunches 4-minute CD tracks down to less than a megabyte. The ripping-encoding process works fine, but we've found that the encoding tends to change the mix a little.

THE WINDOWS ME TOO WAY: You can, of course, also use Media Player 7 to record those ultra-compressed WMA files under Windows 98. But here's an alternative program that remains a little more faithful to the sound of the original track: MusicMatch Jukebox is a free jukebox and ripper/encoder that produces high-quality MP3 files. It also searches the Web for new music and provides great playlist and other organisational tools.

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Windows Me promises to make getting online for fun and profit a lot easier. It's a big promise, and for the most part, the new Windows actually delivers on it. But you can have just as much fun and profit in your online dealings by going the Windows Me Too route.

The new, improved Internet Explorer

THE WINDOWS ME WAY: Install Windows Me, and the latest version of Internet Explorer will be yours.

THE WINDOWS ME TOO WAY: Download the latest version of Internet Explorer, and it's yours. Well, actually, if you read the small print of the End User Licensing Agreement, you'll see that your copy of IE is actually not yours under any circumstances. But you get the idea.

Chatting up a storm

THE WINDOWS ME WAY: Every time you launch Windows Me, you'll see Microsoft's very own chat client, MSN Messenger, sitting in your system tray. It provides its own buddy lists and pings your Hotmail box every so often, telling you when you have mail.

THE WINDOWS ME TOO WAY: MSN Messenger is part and parcel of the Internet Explorer 5.5 package. It also comes as a download that Windows 98 users can have at no extra expense - if they really want to. If you want to use instant messaging, go with a better chat client, AOL Instant Messenger. Your buddies are far more likely to be on AIM, anyway, because the program lets you hook up with both AIM users and AOL subscribers.

Online games

THE WINDOWS ME WAY: Windows Me provides online, multiplayer versions of backgammon, checkers, hearts, and Reversi in the Start menu's Games folder.

THE WINDOWS ME TOO WAY: You can get everything Windows Me offers, plus a bunch of other games (including cribbage and euchre), by signing up at Microsoft's MSN Zone.com (zone.msn.com). At the site you can visit free game rooms, download the program you want to play, and do battle online just like a Windows Me user.

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Here's the deal: many of Windows Me's more compelling features - better audio software, better graphics handling, better system tools - are available right now for Windows 98 users. And getting hold of many of these features won't cost you more than a few minutes of download time.

Why go through the hassle of upgrading your entire operating system just to get the one or two features you want? We've rounded up a passel of cool tools that will give you Windows Me-like features. We're calling this the "Windows Me too" approach. Read on to see what you stand to gain. All software products and add-ons are available on our cover CD.

Improve Your Internet Experience

Your Digital Jukebox

A Better Picture

Slick System Tools