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Windows Me Annoyances by David A. Karp

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Transition to Windows Me

If Windows Me is your foray into Windows, you’re lucky to have escaped the early days of changing jumpers, editing the config.sys file, running out of “system resources,” and suffering with the Windows 3.x Program Manager. However, dealing with the problems of the early days of Windows is a good way to build coping skills and is the only way to appreciate some of the things now taken for granted, such as Plug-and-Play and fast Internet connections. Getting under the hood of Windows is not only a great way to take charge of the operating system and make it conform to the way you work and think, but it’s also a very effective method for learning more about Windows and the technology that makes it work.

The basic “shell” interface (Explorer, the Desktop, the Start Menu, and [shiver] the Web View) is relatively unchanged from Windows 98, with the exception of newly painted desktop icons. Those migrating from Windows NT 4.0 will notice slightly more substantial changes, such as menu animation and Internet Explorer integration. Anyone who is accustomed to any recent release of Windows, though, will feel immediately comfortable with the Windows Me version, at least on the surface.

What follows are a few highlights and lowlights of Windows Me, most notably for those who have upgraded or who are thinking of upgrading from a previous version. Some may seem insignificant; others may mean the difference between upgrading to Windows Me and waiting for something better to come along. All of these, naturally, add up to the total Windows Me experience.

Drag-and-drop of EXE files finally makes sense

After five years of customer complaints, Microsoft has finally fixed the absurd way Windows handled the drag-and-drop of EXE files. As one visitor to http://Annoyances.org wrote several years ago, “whoever came up with the `dragging an application creates a shortcut’ behavior must be shot immediately.” Now, dragging an EXE file works the same as dragging any other type of file. See Chapter 2, for details, exceptions, and helpful tips.

Enhanced file dialog boxes

As described in Section 1.1 earlier in this chapter, most of the file dialog boxes in Windows Me can now be resized. And, although Windows does temporarily remember the dialog box sizes for each application, it doesn’t save the settings to disk and forgets them when you shut down. Now, there is no apparent way to set the default size of the file dialog boxes, and some dialog boxes still don’t allow resizing (any modified common dialog boxes, as well as the faux common dialog boxes found in Microsoft Office),[6] so it’s an incomplete solution at best.

Also new to file dialog boxes is the "Places Bar,” a gray stripe down the left side of most dialog boxes containing icons for prominent file locations. Introduced first in Microsoft Office 2000, it contained links to the Desktop, the My Documents folder, and, among other things, Web Folders. The default Places Bar in Windows Me is far more useful, doing away with the useless Web Folders shortcut, and including direct links to networked resources, My Computer, the Desktop, and History.

See Section 4.2.9 in Chapter 4 for details on making these dialog boxes more useful.

Year 2000 (Y2K) compliance

The Y2K bug, for those who have been living in a cave for the past decade, was the result of an industry-wide blunder, wherein apparently nobody saw the year 2000 coming. It affects any hardware or software that stores dates internally with two digits instead of four. Now that Y2K is behind us and the global armageddon the media forecasted never really happened, you can stop worrying. However, if you plan on running any software written before 1998 with Windows 2000, you may want to check with the manufacturer for a newer version, or at least a patch.

Windows Me is the first “consumer-grade” operating system released by Microsoft after January 1, 2000, which should, at least in theory, make it the most Y2K-compliant OS to date. Windows 98 was also supposed to be Y2K-compliant, but at least two Y2K updates were released only a few short months after its inception in 1998. In other words, keep an eye on the Windows update site.

A new look for Find, uh . . . I mean Search

The new Search tool doesn’t really add any functionality over the Find tool found in Windows 98 or Windows NT 4.0, but the interface has changed. Instead of a separate window, Search appears as a pane in Explorer. This new interface tends to be confusing, frustrating, and just plain annoying. The good news is that the arbitrary 10,000-file limit has been lifted. See Section 2.1.8 in Chapter 2 for details.

Folder Shortcuts

It’s finally possible to create a shortcut to a folder that behaves like a folder, instead of like a file. For example, an ordinary shortcut to your c:\windows\temp folder cannot be used as part of a path. However, a Folder Shortcut works like a folder: say you have a Folder Shortcut called Cletus, located in c:\, that points to c:\windows\temp. You could then reference a file called c:\Cletus\filename.txt. The problem is that Folder Shortcuts are difficult to make and have their drawbacks as well. See Section 4.2.6 in Chapter 4 for details.

Graphical FTP support

Windows Me and Windows 2000 appear to be the first versions of Windows to offer a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) client that is GUI-based, instead of text (command-line) based. It’s actually quite seamless: you can add an FTP address to My Network Places and then access it in Explorer as though it were a drive directly connected to your computer. For details, see Section 7.4.3 in Chapter 7.

Better hardware support

Each new version of Windows comes with more drivers than any of its predecessors, supporting a larger range of hardware, and Windows Me is no exception. In reality, though, we use new computers with old sound cards and new sound cards with old computers, meaning that upgrading is not always as seamless as Microsoft says on the outside of the box. See Chapter 6 for troubleshooting and maintenance.

Performance, for better or worse

Anyone familiar with software upgrades has come to expect that any new version of an application or operating system will require more disk space and will run slower than its predecessor on the same hardware. This, of course, means lots of dollars spent on lots of megabytes and lots of megahertz. Microsoft is no stranger to what has become known as “bloat-ware,” and Windows Me is no exception.

Why don’t successive versions of software get leaner and faster? Because for every additional megabyte of hard-disk space an operating system requires, the available storage on the average computer increases by ten megabytes.

At the same time, Windows Me does actually have some functionality that may result in improved performance over previous versions of Windows: “real mode” has apparently been removed, resulting in a quicker boot time and possibly faster application load times. Furthermore, DirectX 8.0 and other refined components promise to make games, videos, and animation run more smoothly than ever.

An operating system being simultaneously slower and faster than its predecessor may seem like bit of a paradox, but that’s the reality behind the evolution of personal computers. The key is to make the most of what you’ve got, and that’s what this book is all about.

Suffice it to say, there are actually quite a few goodies that have been added to Windows Me, including lots of little touches here and there that actually work to improve the product.

But I prattle on. If you don’t know where to go from here, I suggest turning the page and starting with Chapter 2.



[6] The dialog boxes in Office 2000 aren’t modified common dialog boxes, but new dialog boxes written from scratch. This is important because it explains why certain things don’t work in Office dialog boxes, such as drag-drop.

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