With primary goals of simplicity and ease-of-use, it's no surprise that Windows Millennium Edition ("Windows Me") is designed to make things obvious for new users from the get-go. Microsoft has designed an "Out-Of-Box Experience" (OOBE) for customers that receive Windows Me with a new computer, one that is designed to get them up to speed with their new operating system as quickly as possible. And in this exclusive SuperSite preview of the Windows Me OOBE, I take a look at what you're going to see when you turn on your new PC for the first time. Experienced Windows users may find the introduction a bit simplistic for their tastes, but then we need to remember that this is aimed at a far wider audience: People that have never before used Windows.

Navigating OOBE
When a new Windows Me-based computer is booted for the first time, the system launches a special OOBE application that begins as a white screen that fades (Figure) into the Windows Me logo (Figure). Then, a Welcome screen similar to the Windows Me Setup application appears, but with one major difference: An animated Merlin agent (Figure) pops up to guide the user through the OOBE (Figure and Figure). Merlin introduces himself (Figure) and then explains that he's there to help (Figure). Merlin's onscreen antics are accompanied by some of the worst computer-generated speech I've heard since "B17 Bomber," an early 1980's Mattel Intellivision video game. Thankfully, speech balloons duplicate everything the little critter says; otherwise, it'd be impossible for many people to understand him. Why Merlin couldn't take advantage of pre-recorded Windows Media sound files is beyond me: Everything he says in this introduction is pre-canned anyway.

At this point, Merlin flies over to his spot on the left side of the screen (Figure) so you can begin the introduction. Assuming you understand basic mouse usage, you can begin with the first step of the intro, which discusses hardware (Figure). Merlin can be called up to help by clicking on him or pressing F1: He'll respond with a list of choices that are appropriate for the screen you're working with (Figure). As needed, Merlin will zip around the screen and prompt you for the appropriate action (Figure).

After the (thankfully optional) mouse tutorial, you move forward to "Select Your System Settings," where options such as region, preferred language, and keyboard layout can be chosen (Figure). Then, the legal requirements section begins, with a screen that makes you type in your product key (Figure). This step is required before Windows Me will function. After this, the OOBE is basically complete and Merlin congratulates you (Figure).

Welcome to Windows
Once the OOBE application is completed (Figure), the system boots to the desktop for the first time and launches the Welcome to Windows application, which is a multimedia introduction to the new features in Windows Me. A short video plays (Figure) and then a new Flash-based demonstration begins (Figure) with a Windows Me logo that slowly morphs (Figure and Figure) into a front-end for exploring the new features in the operating system (Figure).

The version of OOBE that I've seen isn't yet complete, but as Microsoft marches toward the Windows Me Release Candidate 2 (RC2) stage, these final touches will come together. I'm not sure why the company chose to include such a program--there's already an excellent Windows Me Tour that's accessible from Help & Support, for example--but it probably has something to do with user expectations: Each of the previous versions of Windows 9x included a "Welcome to Windows" application that ran on first boot-up.