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Comparison of different versions of Windows for home users: Windows 98se, Windows ME, Windows 2000, Windows XP home edition.

by Tom Cumming


Windows 98se vs Windows ME

ME is not a great deal different to 98se in it's look and feel. It is faster on modern hardware, bootup times are quicker, and Microsoft are still providing security patches/updates for it, unlike 98se. There are number of small but welcome tweaks and improvements to the user interface, and it is a generally more modern operating system than 98se in terms of it's hardware support, built-in drivers, and versions of IE and Windows Media Player that it comes with.

ME was also the first version of windows to feature System Restore, a utility that seems to devide computer users. Some think it is a godsend, others think it is horrid. What it does is allows you to take snapshots of your PC's configuration, so that when a program installation goes horribly wrong, or you make a change to the system configuration you live to regret, then you can press a few buttons and get your PC back to the state it was in when you last took a snapshot. All sounds great, and I love it, however, it is a great resource hog, taking up *lots* of hard drive space for the snapshots (we are talking Gb here) and slows down the PC slightly when switched on. You can turn it off if you don't like it, though.

Also on the reliability front, it has automatic system file protection. What this means is that it automatically backs up the system's core .DLL files, and if one gets overwritten by a dodgy version by a program installation, it will automatically put the good one back without you having to do anything at all. It replaces the system file checker in Windows 98, which did the same job, but it was a bit techie and you had to do it manually.

There are only 2 reasons I can think for you prefering 98se over ME. Firstly is shortage of drivers. ME is *supposed* to accept all Win98se device drivers, but in practise some work and some don't. So if you've got some obscure hardware device that doesn't have a driver for ME, then I'd advise finding someone else who uses ME, and try the device on their machine and check that it works OK first. The second reason is the lack of real-mode MS-DOS. You cannot "restart in MS-DOS mode" like you can in Windows 98se, and the only way to get to a DOS prompt without Windows running in the background is to use a bootable floppy disk. This could be a problem if you use any old DOS programs or games - some (not all) will not work because of this. Windows ME does have slightly higher system requirements than 98se, but if it is for a new PC then this should not be an issue.

So in short, I think if you like Win98, you'll like ME a bit more.

Windows 2000 and XP vs Windows 98 and Windows ME

If you have never used an NT-based operating system before, such as Windows 2000 or XP, you really don't know what you are missing. The reliability and stability of these operating systems are simply in a different league to Windows 95/98/ME. You can go for weeks, months without rebooting. If a program crashes, it does not make the whole system become unstable. Power-saving features like hibernation and suspend-to-RAM are now a lot less hit and miss. They also use the NTFS filing system (unless you tell it otherwise), which is more efficient with large hard drives, slightly faster, and more safe and secure. If you shut down your PC incorrectly or the power fails, you are less likely to lose data. It also has built-in encryption facilities, so you can password-protect individual files or your entire hard drive contents if you wish, without the need of any seperate applications.

These operating systems have also made some small but welcome improvements to some of the Windows accessory apps. Notepad (finally!) now works with the standard Windows shortcut keys for things like cut, copy, save, paste, print, just like MS Office has done for the last 10 years. ;-) The Character Map utility has been much improved, and now works with unicode fonts.

Now the bad news!

System specs is the first one that springs to mind. I'm running WinXP home edition, and my c:\windows folder is, wait for it, 1.2Gb! Give System Restore (as mentioned earlier) another 1Gb or so, bung on an office suite, and you'd be approaching 5Gb already! Then there is the RAM: Windows 98 will run quite nicely in 32Mb of RAM. Windows ME that goes up to 64Mb probably. But XP or 2000, you need 256Mb at least. I've tried WinXP with 128Mb and it was not a pretty sight.

With both 2000 and XP, you will need a completely new set of device drivers. Device drivers designed for Windows 95/98/ME will not work at all under 2000 or XP. This is more of a problem for 2000 rather than XP, because 2000 was intended as a business OS, and many "home"-type peripherals do not have drivers for Windows 2000, as the manufacturers have considered it not necessary. Windows 2000 is also not as good for gaming, for similar reasons.

There are also potential compatibility problems with older Windows and DOS applications running under Windows 2000 or XP. These operating systems are not based on DOS at all, and the command prompt is only an "emulated" DOS, which some applications will not get along with. Some pre-Windows NT applications may also cause problems if you wish to work with multiple user accounts, because users without administrator rights cannot modify certain parts of the registry. You may find that some older applications will only work when logged on as the adminstrator, in other words. The same goes for 16-bit Windows applications (those designed for Windows 3.1 or earlier) - sometimes they work, sometimes they do not, and there are no particular rules as to which do and which do not.

Windows 2000 vs Windows XP

In Windows XP you have the issue of product activation. This means that when you install it, Windows takes a snapshot of your PC specifications and bundles this into a code, which you then have to either send to Microsoft online, or phone them up and give to, to which they will return another code which you type in to "unlock" windows. Without this code, windows will stop working after 30 days. If your system configuration changes significantly (and what exactly constitutes "significantly" is a bit of a mystery) then you will have to do this again. There are restrictions on how often you can re-activate your product. This is to prevent piracy, but if you are the type that upgrades your PC's hardware fairly frequently, this could become a bit of a nuisance. The only way around it to buy a new PC with XP already installed, because some manufacturers provide BIOS-locked versions instead, which will only stop working if the BIOS changes. But not all manufacturers do this, and it is not available on the off-the-shelf version of Windows XP. The thing that scares me a bit about all this is that Microsoft could, if they so wished, sometime in the future, stop giving out activation codes, if they wanted to get people to move over to their latest OS, so making copies useless. I'm not saying they will, but they fact that they could do, I find rather worrying.

Windows 2000 does not have the System Restore utility that Windows ME and XP have (see the Windows 98 vs Windows ME section, above, for an explanation of this.)

Windows 2000 was not very good for games. Although it did support DirectX, and so theoretically should be OK, a lot of hardware and software manufacturers did not go to any great efforts to make games, graphics drivers etc compatible with it, because it was felt at the time that most home users would be using Windows ME.

Windows XP also has a re-arranged new-look user interface that some people think is wonderful, but others do not like. Personally I think it is more logically organised, but then you do have to partially relearn where everything is. You can turn it off if you don't like it, however.

Windows XP vs the rest

The only things I have not mentioned, which do not really fit in anywhere else, are all the built in extra toys in windows XP. With the release of Windows XP, Microsoft included a number of features into the operating system, to allow you to carry out tasks that prior to Windows XP would require a seperate programs.

These extras include:

Built-in CD burning support
- allows you to drag and drop files to writeable CD-ROMs just like you would a floppy disc, and then write them with an option in the menu. However, the functionality is very basic and only for the beginner - most users soon come up to the limitations of the built-in support and want seperate software anyway. Bear in mind that the built-in support was written for Microsoft by Roxio, but Roxio are still trying to flog people copies of Easy CD Creator, so they would not want to make it too good or it would impact on their sales figures!

Built-in firewall
- gives you an added layer of security when browsing the internet. However, it is not as effective or flexible as many separate firewall utilities.

- Windows Messenger
- simply what used to be called MSN Messenger: an instant messaging program, only now it is built into the operating system and not a seperate program.

- Windows Movie Maker
- a fairly basic video-editing program.

In short, these extras are not really very good! But if your needs are fairly basic then they may be adequate, and reduce the overall cost, because you do not have to pay for seperate programs.

I think that's about it. So in summary, I would advise:

- If you use a lot of DOS applications or games, stick to Windows 98se unless you know for certain that they all work in the later versions.

- If you have any older hardware without the support for later operating systems, use Windows 98se

- If you wish to use older Windows applications that you know to be incompatible with 2000/XP, but the two points above do not apply, then go for Windows ME.

- Or, if your system does not have much RAM or hard drive space, stick to Win98se or ME.

- If you want stability and reliability, Windows 2000 or Windows XP.

- If you want your files to be secure, Windows 2000 or XP.

- If you like the sound of the System Restore utility, WinME or WinXP.

- If you don't like the sound of Product Activation, then don't get WinXP.

Copyright © 2001-2006 © Copyright Karl Davis.

No part of this site may be reproduced in any format.All documents author acknowledged are copyright retained by the author.

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