Twenty years ago, the turn of the millenium saw some serious software bugs. No, we’re not talking about Y2K here: We’re talking about Windows Me. Dubbed “Windows Mistake Edition” by PCWorld, Windows Me is not remembered fondly by many.
A Strange Pit Stop on the Way to Windows XP
Microsoft released Windows 2000 on February 17, 2000. Windows 2000 was a forgotten masterpiece, offering a rock-solid, 32-bit operating system designed for business use. It was based on Windows NT, technology which is still the core of Windows 10 today.
Seven months later, Microsoft released Windows Millenium Edition on September 14, 2000. This operating system was designed for home users. It was based on Windows 98 SE and still had DOS under the hood.
Windows Me had an incredibly short lifespan: Microsoft replaced it with Windows XP on October 25, 2001, just over a year later.
With Windows XP, MIcrosoft brought everything together, releasing a rock-solid consumer operating system based on Windows NT. It was an operating system for businesses, too. Before that, home users had Windows Me.
Why Windows Me Was Supposed to Be Exciting
Windows Me was designed as an upgrade to Windows 98 Second Edition. Microsoft’s original Windows Me website promises to make your home computer “a multimedia entertainment center” thanks to Windows Media Player 7 and Windows Movie Maker. It boasted that Windows would be easier to use with an “improved user experience” thanks to features like “new wizards.” Home networking setup was simplified, too.
Under the hood, Windows Me received some features from Windows 2000. This includes System Restore for restoring operating system files to known-good states and System File Protection for protecting important system files from being modified.
Windows Me also removed support for real-mode DOS, which made the operating system boot faster—but made it less compatible with older DOS software consumers might use.
In the end, a variety of smaller features and low-level system improvements didn’t sway most home users, who largely stuck with Windows 98 at home. Unless you were buying a new PC that came with Windows Me, why would you spend $209 for the full retail version or $109 for the upgrade version? Windows 2000 seemed like a big upgrade—but who wanted Windows Me?
That’s especially true because of how unstable Windows Me reportedly was.
The Reality of Windows Me: A Buggy Windows 98 SE
Now, the Windows 9x series of operating systems—that’s Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows Me—were always criticized for being unstable. They were all based on DOS under the hood, just like Windows 3.0 was.
Windows Me was even more unstable than Windows 98. That’s what I experienced when I used it twenty years ago, and it’s what many people recall. PCWorld’s Dan Tynan dubbed it the “Mistake Edition” of Windows and said it was one of the 25 worst tech products of all time.
Why were there so many blue screens of death and other problems? Well, who knows. The Windows 9x series was always unstable. Windows Me had some new features: It introduced System Restore, for example, a feature that reportedly caused problems on some people’s systems at the time. People reported issues with hardware support on certain system configurations. Maybe Windows Me just needed more development time.
The bugs never really affected businesses, who were encouraged to use Windows 2000 on their workstations. Windows 95 and Windows 98 were designed for both home and business use, but suddenly there were significantly different versions of Windows for the office and for home PCs—and the version for home users was, unsurprisingly, less reliable.
Of course, many people report Windows Me was stable on their systems. And Windows Me is probably unfairly singled out: Windows 98 was often unstable as well, being based on DOS. Maybe there really was no big change from Windows 98.
But now Windows users could look at Windows 2000 and wonder: Why isn’t Windows Me that stable?
Pining for Windows 2000
The release of Windows 2000 showed a way forward for Microsoft, but Microsoft didn’t bring Windows NT to home users until Windows XP.
In the meantime, some people with crashing Windows Me installations—or people who had just heard bad things about Windows Me—didn’t wait. Some home users went out of their way to purchase Windows 2000, which was intended only for businesses. Windows 2000 Professional cost $319 for a full version or $219 for an upgrade from Windows 98 or 95. That was $110 more than Windows Me.
And yes, some people began passing around pirated Windows 2000 discs—often copied from their workplaces—rationalizing that pirating the operating system was acceptable since they had already paid Microsoft for Windows Me. Was it legal? No. Was it understandable that people wanted a stable version of Windows that didn’t crash so much? Of course.
Personally, my crashing Windows Me system was the reason I first started exploring Linux on the desktop. Desktop Linux was much more complicated to use in the year 2000 than it is today, but it certainly was stable.
Windows XP Saved the Day
In the end, Windows XP put an end to the mess of Windows 2000 and Windows Me. Microsoft didn’t have to put out a service pack for Windows Me and spend time fixing it, as Microsoft did with Windows Vista Service Pack 1 and Windows 8.1.
Instead, Microsoft released Windows XP and brought the more stable Windows NT foundation to home users. The more friendly interface and multimedia features from Windows Me ended up in Windows XP in a more stable form. Windows XP was more compatible with consumer applications that might have had some issues running on Windows 2000.
With the release of Windows XP, both business and home users were now using the same desktop version of Windows. Sure, there were Home and Professional editions with a few different features—but both were the same base operating system.
Windows XP had its problems—security issues that were only truly solved by Windows XP Service Pack 2, as well as a desktop theme that was widely derided as “Fisher-Price” and unprofessional at the time. But now Windows XP is looked back on fondly, and many people stuck with it long after the release of Windows 7.
But people didn’t stick with Windows Me in the same way. Even if you wanted a DOS-based version of Windows to run older software, you were better off with Windows 98. It was more compatible with that older software.