Windows bugs Me – but a little less?

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Driver compatibility and support is probably the biggest problem associated with Windows Me. In the past month several vendors have come up with drivers - for example, Creative has released Live!Ware 3.0 and drivers for users with a Sound Blaster sound card. Those with a Sound Blaster Live! Platinum 5.1, X-Gamer 5.1, MP3+ 5.1, and Digital Entertainment 5.1 do not need this, as the CD already contains the latest software.

Microsoft doesn't take the view that it didn't come up with the goods in time; the company says that Windows Me is designed for the home user, and has even better driver support than Windows 98 for items likely to be used in a home environment. A spokeswoman added that Windows Me's driver collection is not necessarily a superset of Windows 98.

But there are clearly plenty of people out there with hardware that wasn't supported from day one, and who still want to run Windows Me. So either the vendors screwed up by not using the two months they had before Windows Me hit the shelves, or Microsoft did not prepare the vendors enough. But if you haven't got your fix yet, you can keep trying to look for drivers at sites like WinDrivers.com, or go to Microsoft's driver support page here. Some progress had also been made on bugfixes and workarounds.

Data loss

There have been reports of a mysterious problem that results in certain high-speed systems running Windows Me suffering data loss at shutdown. Microsoft insists that the problem doesn't relate to its operating systems but has nonetheless released patches to address it. The problem occurs only in very specific circumstances, apparently involving ATA-100 hard disk drives with large physical caches. According to Microsoft, very fast systems sometimes power down before the contents of the large drive cache have been completely written to disk. In other words, the system shuts down before the OS can save what you were working on.

On 20 September, Microsoft delivered to OEMs a patch for systems running Windows 98 SE - the patch will prevent the loss of data. Microsoft is also in the final stages of testing such a patch for Windows Me. "[These] are short-term fixes-the industry must work together to come up with a long-term solution," says a Microsoft spokeswoman. I really don't see how this is an industry problem, rather Microsoft's problem. If Windows products can't support high-speed systems then they better provide a long-term fix pretty soon.

In the meantime, anyone who wants to obtain a patch should contact his or her OEM.

Destined to be DOS-less?
Although DOS has been a little bit suppressed in Windows Me, there are way to run the usual DOS commands in the Windows Me version of DOS. To begin with, you can access DOS by clicking on the start button, and selecting run. Then type in "command", without the quotes, and you will see a DOS window open. But this won't be the DOS you're accustomed to. This command window is not "pure" DOS - Windows itself is still running, is still controlling the show, and is still keeping a number of the files in use and alive, making low-level system maintenance either difficult or impossible.

There's a patch which will let you restore access to real-mode DOS in Windows Me by patching some low-level files in the operating system, and you can find that here. There are some downsides to this patch: if you hack the OS at a low level, you'll likely make yourself ineligible for tech support for the OS, and maybe for applications as well. Also keep in mind that the patch may make things worse, not better.

In the long run though you'll be swimming against the tide with this kind of patch. Microsoft really doesn't want you to get to DOS or work on the system at a low level, because Windows Me is for "newbies" and those who want to just run the OS as-is.

Format.com and fdisk.exe (real-mode DOS)
This follows on frm the DOS issue, and from Windows Me's lack of support for common DOS commands. Microsoft had several goals when it came to simplifying Windows Me for consumers. Microsoft had to evaluate the pieces of legacy code still in previous Windows versions and determine what value it offers to consumers, if any. In the case of Real Mode, Microsoft determined that its removal gave consumers a more reliable computing experience and increased their PCs performance, even though it is used in some antivirus tools and disk utilities as well as hardware devices.

As I mentioned in the previous article, real-mode DOS lets any application or device driver write straight to the system memory for improved performance. But the problem with that is that errors writing to memory can adversely affect your entire system.

As with any other operating system, one can still utilize format and fdisk by booting into the system with a Windows Me Emergency Boot Disk (EBD).

Windows 2000 TCP/IP stack

The user interface is not the only thing that was adopted from Windows 2000 - so was the TCP/IP stack, which was intended to provide home users with improvements in reliability and security. Ultimately, this change affects applications that relied on the Windows 98 networking stack, but it also offers ISVs the first opportunity to write one packet filtering solution for both Windows 2000 and Windows Me.

Personal Web Server

Microsoft's Personal Web Server (PWS) is one of the applications that falls foul of Windows Me. PWS tries to overwrite some of the core system files and when it doesn't instead of aborting the installation, it creates several nasty registry errors.

Microsoft responds with the obvious, once again, stating that this technology is more appropriate for business and/or corporate users, and since Windows Me was designed solely for the home user, PWS is not supported by Windows Me. Which leads to it not being able to work in Windows Me.

But it screwing your registry does seem a bit hard, even so. Particularly if you didn't have a backup. You did have a backup, didn't you?

WebTV and DoS

The WebTV Denial of Service bug was found and reported before Windows Me was even released, but wasn't fixed when Windows Me went gold. "Unfortunately, the vulnerability was made public before the fix was completed and tested, potentially putting customers at risk," says Microsoft. The bug allows a malicious hacker to remotely crash or reboot any PC running WinTV for Windows and initiate a Denial of Service attack.

Although the WebTV for Windows application ships with Windows 98, 98 SE, and Windows Me, the application is not installed by default, and customers who have not installed it would not be at risk. You can download the patch here. ®

Related Stories

The Register Windows Me tweaks and tips roundup
Windows Me after a month - was it worth it?
Windows bugs ME - should you upgrade to MS' latest?

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