Last fall, Dan Wood uploaded a video testing and discussing Windows Millennium Edition for the operating system’s 20th anniversary titled Windows ME: The WORST Version of Windows Ever?!. Now for the better part of the last 20 years there has been an ongoing consensus that Me was the worst version of Windows ever made… but was it really?
Dan isn’t the only creator to cover Windows Me. Clint from LGR put out a video on Windows Me a while back and his take seemed to be pretty similar to Dan’s. The OS seemed snappy and responsive with all of the Windows features that were expected back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. It played DOS games like a champ and included new features that improved much of what Windows 98 SE was missing to make it a more user-friendly release. The biggest complaint that they both brought up from the time was the removal of DOS mode as a boot option; and while that might not sound like a major issue for most of us today, at the turn of the millennium many (if not most) users still ran various pieces of DOS software and many people were still quite comfortable in the DOS prompt. While the DOS prompt was easily accessible from the Start menu and most DOS programs could still be run inside of Windows, previous versions of Windows allowed you to bypass Windows and boot directly into DOS. That said, the biggest complaint people seem to have with Me (and what turned it into a meme) is the frequent blue screen stop errors — colloquially referred to as a blue screen of death, or BSOD. Clint, in his review, did get hit by one, but once he adjusted his drivers the issue was resolved and did not occur again.
I used Windows Me through high school. My parents gave me my first desktop PC in my freshman year when Me was brand new and it served me well nearly until I graduated. It was more visually appealing and enjoyable to use than our old Windows 95 family PC that we’d used for years, or my school-issued Windows 98 laptop. To be completely honest here, I was 13 at the time and not yet really into tech so my take on it was always rooted in a normal user experience and workload. I would write papers in Office 2000, play Windows games and the occasional DOS game, browse various forums of interest and that was really about it until my last year in high school.
In 2003 I was about to graduate when my Windows Me box started to crap out on me. It was getting slow and buggy and would occasionally crash, but after doing some cleanup and updating some drivers it seemed to work better… until I discovered peer-to-peer file shares. Napster, iMesh, AudioGalaxy, Kazzaa, Limewire; these were a witches brew of how to murder your PC, and I did so (though Napster was earlier on and didn’t cause any real problems for me). That poor PC didn’t stand a chance. By the end of the school year it was blue screening about every hour or so and even I jumped on the bandwagon of mocking the operating system as terrible. But now, looking back, and after running Windows Me in a virtual machine for a few days, I don’t think that is a fair assessment.
Given how well it ran when I first used it, and even for the first few years, I would say that Windows Me doesn’t deserve the hate that it receives. It was a (mostly) solid operating system for what it was. Obviously the NT line was much more stable than any of the 9x versions and that’s why Microsoft moved to NT only starting with Windows XP (more on this one at a later time). When using a device that was current for the time, with the proper drivers installed, and when not using your computer like an idiot (which we all did back then…) Windows Me worked fine. It wasn’t outstanding, but really none of the computing options from back then were either. Even Apple’s Mac OS 9 and my beloved GNU/Linux had plenty of issues. So as I’ve already said, Windows Me was fine. Not terrible, not the worst, not fantastic; just fine.
Would you use Windows Me today?
Honestly? Maybe, but just for the fun of it. For a week. Maybe.
Let’s be honest, this is a 21-year-old operating system that was built to run on a technology based in the 80’s. It’s not suited for the online world of 2021, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy the Millennium Edition experience. If I were going to use it today, it would either be in a VM, or on time appropriate hardware. I would use time appropriate software (like Office 2000 and era appropriate games) and only take it online if I absolutely had to… which I wouldn’t need to. So, unless it was just for fun, no. I wouldn’t go back to Me. It was a decent operating system that I can remember fondly during what was genuinely a pretty rough season in life and remember the good times… and laugh at the hundreds of BSODs I’d face in my last year of high school.