The Windows Family Tree

As time progresses, the lineage of Windows becomes less linear. Windows 2000, despite its name, is not the successor to Windows 98 and Windows 95; Windows Me, of course, has that distinction. Windows 2000 is, instead, the latest installment to the less-consumer-oriented Windows NT line of operating systems, developed in parallel to the Windows 9x line.

Figure 1-1 shows a representative family tree and where Windows Me and Windows 2000 fit in. Note that wider boxes imply a greater installed base, and wider gray arrows imply a greater migration from one product to another. Products appearing farther to the right are perceived to have both greater complexity and more technological sophistication.

The nonlinear Windows Family Tree is hopefully heading toward a future unifying product

Figure 1-1. The nonlinear Windows Family Tree is hopefully heading toward a future unifying product

There were rumors that what has become Windows 2000 was supposed to be the product that unified the upscale NT line with the consumer-oriented[4] Windows 9x line. This role has been ostensibly postponed to the Windows XP operating system (code-named “Whistler”), probably Microsoft’s most confusing name choice to date.

So why the distinction between DOS-based Windows operating systems and the NT line? We peons were informed at the inception of Windows NT 3.1 that “NT” was an acronym for “New Technology,” which is actually quite an accurate description. The NT kernel, or underlying code upon which the interface (Explorer) runs, was completely new and did not rely on DOS.[5] This resulted in a (theoretically) more stable environment, much better security, and the ability to be easily ported to work on other processors (such as Compaq’s Alpha chip). Over the years, this “portability” has become much less emphasized. More recently, the NT line has been marketed as a web, intranet, and network server; a challenger to Unix; and now, with Windows 2000, a viable home-office operating system.

The problem with earlier releases of Windows 2000 (from NT 3.1, which nobody liked, to NT 4.0, most commonly used as a web server) was that they offered the enhanced features of the NT line without any of the perks prized by the average consumer. What has plagued NT in the past, more than anything else, has been the abysmal industry support for the platform. Given the overwhelming majority of Windows 9x users, a sizeable percentage of the hardware and software available for the PC—even released as recently as the time of this writing—is simply not supported on NT/2000. The result is a platform that is still inappropriate for most users.

Windows Me, on the other hand, is the pinnacle of consumer-oriented technology. It supports, by far, a broader range of hardware and software than any other operating system on Earth. Its system requirements and learning curve are both much lower than for Windows 2000. Games will run better on Windows Me than on Windows 2000, as will most of the more exotic hardware (e.g., cameras, CD writers, game controllers). Just about anything that worked on Windows 95 or Windows 98 will also work on Windows Me.

Of course, if Windows 2000 or its successor eventually replaces Windows 9x/Me as the de facto standard PC operating system, manufacturers will either ensure 2000 compatibility or go out of business. It’s only a matter of time.

For the record, the solutions in this edition assume that you have the original shipping version of Windows Me. Microsoft may produce a service release (much like OSR2 for Windows 95 or Second Edition for Windows 98) or make any number of patches publicly available, which may either solve existing annoyances or create new ones. Rest assured that such changes will be documented on the accompanying web site, , along with other news, updates, and relevant information.

[4] The term “consumer” has almost become a dirty word in the computer industry. Rather than simply meaning “one who acquires goods,” it connotes the gadget-hungry, yet technologically unsophisticated, average customer, who uses a three-thousand-dollar computer for little more than playing games, surfing the Internet, and organizing Grandma’s recipes. There’s certainly nothing wrong with these tasks, but many “consumers” use computers to get their work done, thank you very much.

[5] DOS, or “Disk Operating System,” was the first operating system available for the IBM PC (released in 1981). The first versions of Microsoft Windows (Versions 1.x-3.x) were simply applications that ran on top of DOS. Windows 9x and Me are no different, although Microsoft went to great lengths to hide the dependence on DOS. For more information on DOS and the command line, see Appendix B.

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