Windows Me's Leisurely Launch

Windows Me is here, but let's face it: This isn't an attention-grabbing, line-forming release a new Harry Potter book draws.

Newly available from computer stores and online retailers, Windows Millennium Edition is Microsoft Corp.'s long awaited update to its consumer operating system. A complete package costs $US209, but you can get a $US59 upgrade edition if you're already running Windows 95 or 98; the price eventually goes up to $US109. But unlike the "Start Me Up" theme of Windows 95's debut, the Windows Me launch might best be accompanied by the Nirvana album Nevermind.

The final release of Windows built on the 9x kernel, Windows Me basically puts a multimedia twist on Windows 98 SE. Designed for gadget-loving PC users, Windows Me bundles a digital audio and video player (Windows Media Player 7), a basic video editor (Windows MovieMaker), a digital camera and scanner interface, online games, the new Internet Explorer 5.5 and a home networking wizard. For our full review, see "Windows Millennium Edition: All About Me."

Windows Me will come with new home PCs from Dell Computer Corp., Gateway Inc., Hewlett Packard Co., Compaq Computer Corp., IBM Corp., and others. But satisfied Windows 98 SE users may find it easier to download the multimedia tools of Windows Me, rather than pay for an upgrade. Note, though, that Windows Me adds PC health tools to keep your system up and running and recovery tools that could benefit home and office users.

Anticlimactic Windows Opening

No long lines of consumers eager to buy Windows Me were reported at CompUSA Inc. or Best Buy Co. Inc. Even in Silicon-enriched Palo Alto, California, a Fry's Electronics computer salesman reported a "normal" shopping day.

No one beat down the door at midnight to get a copy of Windows Me. The new operating system quietly sailed onto shelves and slowly went out the door with a few eager consumers.

In Australia, where Windows Me has been available for an entire business day before anywhere in the United States, Olympic mayhem far outshadows the launch, according to Australia Reseller News. Of course, Microsoft sees Olympic attendees as potential Windows Me customers once they return home and want to work with the digital photos and video collected while at the games.

In the U.S., Microsoft is pushing a Meet Me tour, a road show to shopping centers in 25 cities. The tour will feature an interactive home display, where visitors can test drive Millennium's home PC tools for music, digital media, and home networking, Microsoft says. Nonetheless, Windows Millennium hype doesn't compare to earlier Windows releases.

One reason for the yawns? It's been a long time coming. Microsoft trickled out three beta releases before shipping final code to manufacturers in June. Since then, PC vendors have taken orders and begun shipping Windows Me systems.

In addition, all these Windows updates generate some consumer confusion. Last year Windows 98 SE appeared, upgrading Windows 98 with plug-and-play improvements. Then came Windows 2000, designed for professional desktops and servers. Here's Windows Millennium, aimed at consumers who want more multimedia and better recovery and repair. The Meet Me tour and training for retailers and vendors are intended to keep the Windows clear.

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