Windows Me is Microsoft's final operating system in the 16/32-bit Windows 9x family, following Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows 98 SE. As such, users expect it to perform in a similar manner to its predecessors, achieving the same levels of hardware and software compatibility, while providing a number of useful enhancements to justify its cost. In this regard, Windows Me is largely successful, but the key to any installation of the OS is to approach the task in the proper manner. This showcase focuses on how to best install Windows Me either as an upgrade to Windows 9x or as a clean install on an empty hard drive of a new PC.

But first, you need to ensure that your system meets the minimum requirements. Microsoft has its own list, but I find their minimums to be unrealistic. The following table compares Microsoft's stated minimums with my own recommendations. If you're installing or upgrading Windows Me on a system that falls below my recommendations, don't waste anyone's time with complaints: Windows Me is a modern operating system and it requires certain types of hardware to run efficiently.

Component Microsoft's stated requirement Paul's recommendation
Processor Pentium 150 or higher; Pentium II 300 or higher for Movie Maker Pentium II 300 or higher
Memory 32 MB RAM, 64 MB RAM for Movie Maker 64 MB minimum; 128 MB preferred
Hard drive space 245 MB to 435 MB 4.3 GB
Video support VGA or higher SVGA or 3D chipset with 8MB or more of RAM
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Microsoft's guidelines represent the type of system on which Windows Me will run. My recommendations are based around the type of system on which you'd be happy to run Windows Me. In other words, my recommendations are more realistic.

The Windows Me Upgrade: System Preparation
Now that Windows Me is out in stores, we're starting to hear a lot of horror stories from users regarding installation problems. The vast majority of these problems are related to poor preparation, rather than any inherent limitation in Windows Me. Unlike Windows 98 or 98 SE, Windows Me contains a few low-level technical changes that make it a bit less compatible, hardware-wise, than its predecessors. This has a couple of ramifications: If you're using any legacy DOS drivers to, say, operate an older sound card, this will not work in Windows Me, as this version of Windows strips away compatibility with Real Mode DOS. Likewise, the TCP-IP networking technology in Windows Me was derived from Windows 2000, not Windows 98. So there could be some compatibilities issues there as well.

With regards to software, the removal of Real Mode DOS has similar repercussions. For example, programs that require starting or operating in DOS mode will not work. Examples include older versions of PowerQuest Partition Magic and any DOS programs that add entries to the CONFIG.SYS or AUTOEXEC.BAT files for processing on system startup.

They key to successfully upgrading Windows 9x to Windows Me is, therefore, preparation. The following checklist explains the steps you need to take before you upgrade Windows 9x to Windows Me:

    Upgrade checklist:
  • Read the README.TXT file on the Windows Me CD-ROM: No one ever does it, but this file, and the other README documentation, includes a lot of good information. Read it.
  • Run the System Maintenance Wizard to check and defragment your disk.
  • Temporarily disable any anti-virus (Norton AntiVirus, etc.) or personal firewall software (BlackIce, ZoneAlarm, etc.).
  • Backup: If you're not backing up to another hard drive, tape, or CD-R, you're just begging for a disaster. Back up all of your valuable data before performing any type of system upgrade.
  • Make sure all of your hardware is on the Windows Me Hardware Compatibility List (HCL). Open up Device Manager and compare the list of devices you have with Microsoft's list of compatible hardware. You can find this list on the Microsoft Web site.
  • Buy the proper version of Windows Me. If you have Windows 3.x or no version of Windows, you will need the Full version. Windows 95, 98 and 98 SE users can purchase the Upgrade version. However, for a limited time, Windows 98 users can upgrade with the special Step-Up edition. This version requires Windows 98 or 98 SE.
Once you're sure that you've done your homework, you're ready to upgrade to Windows Me. And this is where the fun begins.

The Windows Me Upgrade: Installation
The Windows Me upgrade takes approximately 30-60 minutes, depending on your system. When you insert the Windows Me Step-Up or Upgrade CD-ROM, the system will start the installation front-end and ask whether you'd like to upgrade (Figure). Choose Yes.

The Windows Me Setup Wizard is much more attractive than the version used in Windows 98/SE, but it's basically the same program with a few visual tweaks and some other enhancements. After checking your disk, the Setup Wizard begins (Figure). The License Agreement and Product Key entry steps are followed by more system preparation (Figure). At this point, the most crucial step in the Wizard appears: Save System Files (Figure). You are asked whether you want Setup to set aside 125-175 MB of disk space so that it can save your system files and allow you to uninstall Windows Me later if something goes wrong. I cannot stress this strongly enough: CHOOSE YES. If you choose No and the Windows Me install doesn't work for some reason, you are looking at a complete system wipeout and reinstallation. Don't do that to yourself. Windows Me will let you choose the partition to which to save the system files (if you have more than one) and will then perform this crucial task (Figure). Trust me, this is time well spent.

When your system files are backed up, the Windows Me Setup Wizard will prompt you to begin the file copy phase (Figure). This is the point of no return: If you press Finish, you're on your way. The display changes somewhat so that dialogs no longer appear over the background image. Instead, banal text messages about the prowess of Windows Me are displayed while a progress bar ticks down the file copy progress (Figure).

Eventually, Windows Me Setup reboots and launches an uglier, DOS-based version of the Setup Wizard. Now the low-level hardware detection begins, first with Plug and Play devices. And then it restarts again. During the third phase of Setup, the more attractive graphical Setup Wizard returns, and PnP hardware setup ensues. Then, the Control Panel is installed, programs are added to the Start Menu, Windows Help is initiated, and a step called "Tuning up Application Start" runs, though it doesn't appear to do anything. My guess is that what this does is add an entry in your Scheduled Tasks list for later execution. Finally, Setup configures the system, a time-consuming step that now sports a handy new dialog that displays the progress for the current component and the overall progress. This is a nice update from the Windows 98/SE versions of Setup.

Because you're doing an upgrade, most of Setup is a hands-off affair, and you're not prompted for any information. When Setup is complete, the system will reboot and launch Windows Me for the first time.

What you see when Windows Me appears will vary depending on how your previous OS was configured. Generally, Windows Me will retain the color scheme you used before, so if you changed any of the display settings, you will be happy to see that Windows Me doesn't force its color scheme on you (If you're interested in the default Windows Me color scheme, open up Display Properties, navigate to the Appearance tab, and choose "Windows Standard" in the Scheme drop-down list box). The first time Windows Me boots, the Welcome to Windows video plays (Figure). You can exit this by pressing ALT+F4 if you'd prefer.

At this point, Windows Me is good to go. You should check Device Manager to see whether all of your hardware was correctly detected and installed: To do so, right-click My Computer, choose Properties, and navigate to the Device Manager tab (Figure). If you matched your list of hardware up with the Windows Me HCL, you shouldn't have any problems. Then, launch all of your installed software to ensure that you don't need to reinstall anything. For the most part, Windows Me retains compatibility with the vast majority of Windows 9x-compatible software, so this shouldn't be an issue as well.

Once you've used Windows Me for a while and have determined that all is well with your system, you may want to delete the saved system files that the Windows Me Setup created, to save disk space. To do so, launch Add/Remove Programs from the Control Panel and find "Delete Windows Millennium Edition uninstall information" in the list of installed programs (Figure). Alternatively, if you find Windows Me to be problematic, you can choose "Uninstall Windows Millennium" from this list to revert back to Windows 9x.

Full Install: System Preparation
While Microsoft was careful to ensure that Windows Me would successfully upgrade Windows 95/98/SE systems, the company realizes that the vast majority of Windows Me installations will be fresh installs that ship with new computers. Thus, the best way to install Windows Me is the full install, where you add the OS to a new or freshly cleaned system. And to be honest, I strongly recommend this type of install over an upgrade, especially if your system has been around the block a few times. There's something very odd about the Windows 9x family in that performance degrades dramatically over time.

Of course, to perform a clean install, there are some steps you're going to need to take, especially if you already have a system up and running. Refer to the Upgrade checklist in the Upgrade System Preparation section above for the basic gist of it. But a clean install requires a couple of additional steps. If you're taking an existing system and overhauling it for a full install, you will want to create a Windows 98+ book disk first (Windows 95 will not do) because the Windows Me CD-ROM is not bootable. You create this boot disk from Add/Remove Programs, on the Startup Disk tab. This will create a disk that will boot your system.

I also recommend that you keep a copy of the Windows 9x CD-ROM handy as well, for two reasons: One, if the Windows Me install goes poorly, you can always wipe out and reinstall Windows 9x again. Also, Windows Me Setup may require the CD-ROM during install, if you're using the Step-Up or Upgrade edition to perform the full installation. The Step-Up edition requires a Windows 98 or 98 SE CD-ROM, while Upgrade will work with Windows 95, Windows 98, or Windows 98 SE. If you don't have one of these CD-ROMs, you cannot use the Step-Up or Upgrade edition to perform a full install. The Full edition doesn't require any qualifying media.

Once you've got this housework out of the way, you're ready to begin.

Performing the Full Installation
Pop the boot floppy in A: and reboot your system. The Windows 98 Startup Menu should appear, where you can choose whether you want CD-ROM support (Figure). You do, so just hit ENTER to continue. The boot floppy will churn away, testing every conceivable CD-ROM driver on the planet, and it will finally boot the system, and display the A: prompt.

The next step is to format your hard drive so you can install Windows Me. NOTE: This will completely wipe out your existing OS on the C: drive, so be sure you know what you're doing before proceeding. You do not want to "SYS" the drive or use the /s option: Simply type format C: /q (and press ENTER) to perform a quick format or format C: (and press ENTER) for a normal format. Press Y when asked whether you're sure, and the C: drive will be formatted.

Once formatting is complete, you can begin setup. To do so, navigate to the CD-ROM (typically E:, since the Windows 98 boot floppy creates a RAM drive in D:), and type setup (and press ENTER) at the prompt. If you have specific installation requirements, you may want to run setup with one or more command line switches, such as setup /nm (and press ENTER). See the table below for all of the possible setup switches.

Setup switch
(case sensitive)
What it does
/? Lists some of the documented setup switches.
/C Doesn't load SmartDrive disk caching, which will allow Setup to run more quickly. You will not normally want to use this switch.
/d Will not recognize previously installed version of Windows, if present. It's better to simply wipe out the disk than try and clean install Windows Me over a used Windows partition, however.
/id Non-functional: This switch is supposed to skip the disk check phase, but it doesn't work.
/ie Causes Setup to not prompt you to create an Emergency Repair disk (not recommended).
/ih Causes Setup to skip the Registry consistency check.
/il Loads the Logitech mouse driver instead of the Microsoft version, which is the default. If you have a Logitech mouse and a non-working mouse cursor during Setup, restart and try this switch.
/im Causes Setup to skip the RAM check.
/in Causes Setup to not install networking software. However, Dial-up Networking does require this software, so it is recommended that you not use this switch.
/iq Causes Setup to skip the cross-linked files check during initial ScanDisk.
/is Causes Setup to not run ScanDisk. This switch is not recommended, as ScanDisk will often help Setup run without errors.
/iv Causes Setup to not display the Microsoft marketing displays about Windows Me during Setup.
/IW Causes Setup to skip the license acceptance screen.
/nm UNDOCUMENTED: Allows you to install Windows Me on a system that falls below the minimum CPU requirement, such as a Pentium 100. Not recommended, as Microsoft's minimum requirements are already too low for this OS.
/nostart Causes Setup to perform only the File Copy portion of Setup, without actually installing Windows Me. What you're left with is a system that can boot off the hard drive so that you can install Windows Me later.
/NTLDR UNDOCUMENTED, UNVERIFIED: Apparently, this switch allows you to install Windows Me on a system that would normally cancel out of Setup with errors.
/Pf Causes Setup to create a new Registry from scratch if a previous install was aborted.
/T:[tempdir] Allows you to specify a folder in which Windows Me Setup will place its temporary files. Normally, you will not need to specify this option, as this directory will be deleted after installation anyway.
[script file] Allows you to specify the name of a script file that will be used to automate the Setup process. Automated Windows Me installations are covered in the Windows 98 Resource Kit and are beyond the scope of this article.

At this point, you'll need to press ENTER again to begin Setup, which starts with the DOS-based version of ScanDisk (Figure). After ScanDisk is complete, the DOS-based Windows Me Setup Wizard launches; this is virtually identical to the one used in Windows 98 (Figure). After the License Agreement and Product Key entry dialogs, you will be presented with the Qualifying Product Check dialog if you're attempting a full install with the Step-Up or Upgrade edition of Windows Me (The Full edition will not display this step) (Figure). You must insert qualifying media, such as your Windows 98 CD-ROM and tell Setup where to find it. Once the compliance check is complete (Figure), reinsert your Windows Me CD-ROM and continue.

Now you can select the directory into which Windows Me will be installed, C:\WINDOWS by default. The Windows directory is then prepared, and Setup Options are displayed. You can choose between Typical, Portable, Compact, and Custom install types: I strongly recommend choosing Custom, since this will allow you to choose exactly which components you will be installing.

In the next phase of Setup, you enter your name and, optionally, your Company name. Then, if you chose a Custom install, you can pick the Setup Components you wish to install. I recommend going through each option carefully, since I generally disagree with the defaults that Microsoft suggests.

Next, you enter your computer name, workgroup, and, optionally, a computer description. Language, Country/Region, Keyboard Layout, and Time Zone options follow that. In the next step, you can optionally create a Windows Me startup disk. I do recommend this, though you can do it later. On the other hand, the Windows 98 startup disk you created for this installation is actually a better general system boot disk to have, since it has a few more tools.

Whichever you decide, the file copy phase begins next. This is similar to the same part of the upgrade installation, except that the screens are the ugly old blue and black DOS-based versions from Windows 98 setup. But fear not, you get to read the same wonderful marketing messages.

From there, Setup takes over and displays the same screens that you get during the upgrade install, so you won't be prompted again until you need to logon to Windows Me for the first time.

Like the upgrade, you should perform a few cleanup tasks at this point: Check the Device Manager to see whether all of your hardware was correctly detected and installed. If not, get connected to the Internet and see whether you can find the latest drivers on the Web. Before installing any software, you should immediately visit Windows Update and install any product updates that are available.

Windows Me is easy to install if you follow some logical preparation procedures to ensure that your system is compatible. Anyone that throws caution to the wind and simply installs this release with the assumption that it's going to work just fine isn't going to get a lot of sympathy when there are so many obvious things you can do to prevent problems. Hopefully, this guide will help prevent some of the dumber things that you could do to your system. Good luck!