Justice Department lawyers might think it no coincidence that Microsoft has chosen Sept. 14 as the release date for Windows Me.
On Sept. 14, 1901, President McKinley took his last gasp, eight days after being shot by Leon Czolgosz. And in Microsoft's case, Windows Me (Millennium Edition) will be the last gasp for Windows 98, which was supposed to have been replaced by Windows 2000 but will instead be replaced by something still in development, code-named Whistler. Meanwhile, Windows 2000 is the new name for Windows NT.
Beta versions of Windows Me have gotten some good press. And we have Microsoft's pious assertion that Me enhances "PC health," which sounds as if it will occasionally work as advertised. But not to worry if it doesn't, because one of the new features, Microsoft says, will be "System Restore, which enables users to roll back their PC software configuration to a date or time when it was working properly."
How reassuring, and what an improvement over the October 1999 edition of Windows 98, which carried no built-in assumption that it ever worked properly.
Another improvement is "System File Protection, which prevents the accidental or unauthorized overwriting of critical system files; and AutoUpdate, which can automatically download important Microsoft updates without user intervention."
Gee whiz! Protecting system files what will they think of next? And automatically dialing up for bug fixes the manufacturer neglected before selling the program to you. Wow!
Windows Me will also have a Home Networking Wizard in case you want to spread the frustration in your house among several users, and what is billed as "simplified USB networking." Anyone trying to make a USB device work with the current version is probably convinced that USB is an acronym for "U Sonofa B----," so any improvements there will be welcome indeed.
The system also has utilities for handling digital media, as in pictures, video and sound, and an improved version of Internet Explorer.
All this will be available as a $109 upgrade for current Windows users and at $209 for those who have somehow avoided Windows this long and are only now surrendering.
So what to do? Windows Me is said to be the last DOS-based edition of Windows; and Whistler, which is based on Windows NT-Windows 2000, won't be ready until at least 2001. So if you buy much software, particularly games that tend to be on the cutting edge, you'll probably want to submit to Me. Besides, Microsoft's legal bills have been running higher lately, and it might need the money.
But check your hardware first:
The minimum requirements are a 150-megahertz Pentium chip or better with 32 megabytes of RAM and 320 megabytes of hard disk. But if you want to run Windows Me with all the optional bells and whistles, you'll need a 300-megahertz processor, 64 megabytes of RAM, 2 gigabytes of hard disk space, DVD-ROM drive, video capture card, TV tuner card and other widgets.
The easiest way to check the requirements is, of course, at the Web site: www.microsoft.com.
Questions and comments are welcome. Mail to Larry Blasko, AP, 50 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10020-1666. Or e-mail via the Internet to email@example.com