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Many people remember this operating system as not exactly a walk in the park, namely that it could crash as early as during the installation phase or at unexpected times when the user wasn't doing anything particular. It left a bitter taste, especially when compared to its predecessor Windows 98 SE which was a real treat compared to Windows 95.

I am unsure about what made it so crash prone, the first thing that comes to my mind would be bad drivers, however, this is unlikely since the driver model hasn't changed from Windows 98 (unless I'm mistaken).

Online, there is little about what were the technical changes that ended up making it such a terrible operating system. The only plausible thing I could read about it was that it was forked from Windows 95 instead of Windows 98 but how could that be a possibility as it doesn't really make much sense in the end?

Question :

What were the technical changes inside it that made it such an unstable operating system?

  • 6
    There were no technical changes. I think that was the problem. Hardware and software and other operating systems moved on. Windows Me was just layers of cruft built on an obsolete kernel. – JeremyP Jul 14 at 8:55
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    Microsoft's original intention was to merge the Windows 9x and NT product lines into one core product that would be suitable for home and business users. They aimed to do this with Windows 2000, but weren't able to meet that deadline: they didn't get it done until Windows XP. Windows ME was a rushed stop-gap for the home market in the meantime. It added a lot of user-oriented features that were seen in XP, but was built upon the old DOS/9x foundation, which wasn't famed for its stability in the first place. – Kaz Jul 14 at 10:35
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    I don't recall Windows ME crashing any more than Windows 95/98, but the main problem with Windows ME was that it removed features without really adding anything. – Ross Ridge Jul 14 at 13:00
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    It wasn't so bad. There was a ham-fisted attempt to pretend it was "not DOS" but nothing fundamental changed in that respect. I recall it caused minor startup-related difficulties to some VxDs I maintained, but at this remove I cannot recall the details. Like others here I think its main problem was a rushed release after it became clear that NT 5.0 (absurdly renamed 2000) was not consumer-ready. – another-dave Jul 14 at 13:42
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    They missed the Ballmer Peak. – Eric Duminil Jul 14 at 19:09
77

I am unsure about what made it so crash prone

To start with, it wasn't. Windows ME was not much different from 98SE and on its own as stable as its predecessor.

The only plausible thing I could read about it was that it was forked from Windows 95 instead of Windows 98 but how could that be a possibility as it doesn't really make much sense in the end?

It wasn't. ME was based on 98SE with some parts (like the network stack) ported down from Win2k.

What were the technical changes inside it that made it such an unstable operating system?

Now this comes closer to one of the factors why ME was such a failure, as MS did take away much compatibility for DOS without offering any replacement. Like ignoring all installations done via AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS. Likewise HIMEM handling was changed - and while it improved performance notably, it broke the ability of many DOS programs to run. But not only DOS programs were affected, even rather up-to-date Windows programs could fail due to a changed registry structure.

More important than all technical reasoning, ME was a product and marketing failure

  • First ME was hyped as kind of a Win2k 'light'.
    • Creating a feeling of buyers being second class.
  • Next ME switched (after initially different communication) to be DOS based,
    • but at the same time with reduced DOS compatibility
    • Even worse, some of these changes crippled a major use for home PCs: Games
  • All announced new features targeted only the home market (Not SOHO)
    • Creating an image of being just good for non serious work (whereas Win98 was perceived as generally capable).
  • MS supported this by pushing professional users toward Windows 2000 Professional
    • Indicating once more that ME is not intended for anything but 'simple' home use.
  • MS advertisement focused on "easy", "simple" and "just works"
    • Again creating the image it's meant for some 'less experienced' user group, not existing Windows users.
  • While some internal components were taken from Win2k, no new capabilities were ported.
    • Offering no incentive to adapt advanced software to ME
  • Real new/improved applications like Internet Exploder, Office, etc. were available for Win98 as well.
    • Removing any reason to switch because of applications.
  • The desktop was a crude mix-up of Win2k elements with a Win98 colour scheme.
    • Thus it was hard to see any improvement at first.

All of this already created a rather negative image upfront, by reviews and word of mouth. Most common a feeling of ME being without any gain. By actual users this was enhanced due to

  • incompatibility issues
    • especially for DOS,
    • and many Games
  • a crude UI mix-up between Win2k and Win98 (*1),
  • no new functionality (*2),
  • additional investment for new device drivers (Device driver signature)

As a result ME combined the spending money and incompatibility issues with the burden of learning a new OS without any benefit of a real new one (for most cases).

A perfect storm and self fulfilling prophecy. Negative reviews create even more negative response with everyone competing to find the bad sides. A product with no need doesn't sell in masses in tech.


P.S.: Archive.Org has got a nice Test of ME from when it was new.


*1 - Colours have already been mentioned, but it goes deeper, like having Network dialogue looking like Win2k, while working like Win98, Menus looking like Win2k but missing functions, or even worse, the items in the control panel being halfway between Win98 and Win2k.

*2 - To be fair, MS did add a lot of features in media handling, game support and power management - just none of them anywhere near a killer feature.

  • 9
    "Internet Exploder' - LOL! – Bruce Abbott Jul 14 at 22:19
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    "Internet Exploder" is a pun 13-year-olds used in the early 2000's. – immibis Jul 14 at 23:21
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    Not just 13 year old - it's been the standard term at work - heck, one (uninitiated) users even belived it to be the real name and used it in a customer handout :)) And it was all true, as IE caused endless problems with our (late 90s) web applications. – Raffzahn Jul 15 at 0:17
  • 11
    I can't forget a website I saw nearly twenty years ago: "Worst viewed with Microsloth Inter-nut Exploder." – Cort Ammon Jul 15 at 5:59
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    The abbreviation ME was said to mean "Mistake Edition". – rexkogitans Jul 15 at 12:34
3

My experience with ME was on a new build I made (1 GHz!) and I found it be the best build yet of Windows... However, I think I know what was wrong with it for others' uses. The memory handling was seriously flawed. I ran a little 'extra' called RAM something, and I could have it free up memory before running anything 'intensive' - or at any time really - as it showed the available, freeable and used amount all the time. Using that little extra made it extremely reliable - and it still is the only Windows build I ever used that would stay up 'clean' for weeks at a time. Perhaps 2 BSOD incidents in several years of use - until Linux took over my systems.

1

This was just part of MS operating cycle. If you look at the iterations of Windows (not including the NT line) from Win95 onwards then it looks like this:

Windows 95 - good
Windows 98 - flaky
Windows 98SE - good
Windows ME - flaky
Windows XP - good
Windows Vista - flaky
Windows 7 - good
Windows 8 - flaky
Windows 10 - good

So it can be seen that every second version was flaky* in some way, either more prone to crashes than its predecessor or otherwise just "not as good".

* This is entirely subjective, dependent on the particular hardware in use, other software installed, and on the opinion of the user.

** This answer should be taken with a measure of skepticism as to whether it is a serious answer or a little tongue-in-cheek.

  • 6
    Windows XP does not belong in the same line as windows ME. It’s the successor to Windows 2000. The windows 95 sequence should end at me. – JeremyP Jul 16 at 9:52
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    You missed Windows 2000. – OrangeDog Jul 16 at 9:55
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    And Windows NT. – Mark Booth Jul 16 at 10:00
  • 3
    @JeremyP let's not have facts get in the way of the story ;-) – Mick Jul 16 at 10:06
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    I was with you until "Windows 10 - good" – JBentley Jul 16 at 14:12

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