Windows ME:  Double Cash Cow for Microsoft?

By Joel Hruska

Date: November 8, 2001

I know what you all have to be thinking:  “Why an article on Windows ME?”  After all, with Windows XP having just launched, shouldn’t we be discussing it?

Well, sit tight.  We’re going to get into both. 

When Microsoft released Windows ME, it also released the usual marketing onslaught claiming that the operating system was faster, better, more secure, etc. etc.  To be fair, the new OS DID boot faster than 98SE—my boot times dropped to less than twenty seconds on a fully tweaked system -- but not long afterwards, some stability complaints began to crop up.  A story at ZDNET published as early as August, 2000, pointed to some warning signs that the OS was not as stable as it should be.

Now, stability complaints on a Microsoft product are nothing new.  Nevertheless, people seemed to be having more problems with ME then they had with 98SE.  Well-known websites like Anandtech and Sharky Extreme dropped ME from their buying guides, steering low or home-end users towards 98SE, and pointing high-end server / workstation users at Windows 2000 Pro, and numerous online reviews of the product gave it a lukewarm reception.

Since then, things haven’t improved much for the OS.  My own brief experience with it drove me back to Windows 98SE, as I found ME to be crash-prone and buggy.  The maximum time I ever managed to keep my clean-install ME box running was about two days—compared to five days using Windows 98SE.

In July, Microsoft officially acknowledged a major memory leak in the OS that, four months later, remains broken. 

So, what is Windows ME?  It’s generally perceived as a less-stable, buggier version of Windows 98SE with the Win2K GUI that was rushed out the door to feed Microsoft’s bottom line in fiscal year 2000.  That’s ugly enough—but the XP twist gets even uglier.


ME – Left Broken to Boost XP?

The correlation here isn’t hard to draw.  Microsoft has failed to fix most of the problems in ME (such as the officially-acknowledged memory leak discussed above) over a year after the OS’s release.  Question is, why not?

After all, Win 2K came out only a few months ahead of Windows ME—and it’s already had TWO full service packs, not to mention any number of critical updates.  Windows 98 got a massive update in the form of Windows 98SE—which improved its stability quite a bit.  Where are the Windows ME service packs and bug fixes?

I’ll tell you where I think they are.  Microsoft put them in a nifty-looking green box labeled “Windows XP Home Edition Upgrade” and wants to charge you $99 for them. 

Pretty smart, if you think about it.  After all, a majority of OEM PC’s have been shipping with Windows ME for the last year.  With the market softening, and new PC sales slipping, what better method to guarantee OS sales on Microsoft’s part than by refusing to fix a bug-ridden and unstable product?  Rather than fix the damaged one, just concentrate on kicking the new one out the door—thus guaranteeing a more hospitable upgrade market.

In my case, I was lucky.  I wasn’t stuck on Windows ME.  If I had been, I would seriously be considering buying another OS just to rid myself of the daily BSODs [ed: Blue Screens O’ Death -- often associated with euphoric visions of a certain software company in flames under siege from an army of troll-like lawyers], device recognition failures, and driver-installation crashes. 

Now I’ll admit, I can’t prove anyone at MS ever entertained this line of thought—but it seems a little to convenient to me.  It’s shameful, as well.  It was bad enough when Microsoft shipped Windows ME in what was clearly an unfinished and bug-ridden state—but what’s truly inexcusable is their continuing failure to patch the product. 

So how about it Microsoft?  Prove me wrong.  Listen to your customers, and fix Windows ME instead of simply cramming Windows XP down their throats at full upgrade price. 


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