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Windows ME and Me
By Thiravudh Khoman

Sigh, I went and did it - I upgraded my operating system from Windows 98 to Windows ME (https://www.microsoft.com/windowsme). Believe it or not, I didn't have this uncontrollable urge to upgrade when Win ME first came out. But like those rare moments when the earth, moon and sun line up, a number of factors coincided that prompted me to give ME a try.

To begin with, my Windows 98 2nd Edition (Thai) had been acting VERY flaky of late - hangs, crashes and the usual unmentionables. So bad was it that several modules of my Norton Systemworks repair kit refused to run anymore. I had seen this sort of thing before and a fresh reinstall is inevitable, if not now then later. But if I chose to reinstall Win 98, could I honestly say that I'd learned from "history", given that I was doomed to repeat it several months down the road? Perhaps I should try ME instead?

Another factor which pushed me in the direction of ME was my previous success in getting English Windows 2000 to run Thai without the benefit of a localized version of Win 2K. I've always been of the opinion that many problems with Windows 95/98 are due to the mish mash of English and Thai system files, especially when new software is installed, and if given a choice, I'd prefer to use the English versions. But that also meant I had to be able to do some rudimentary work in Thai (i.e. e-mailing, web browsing, word processing, spreadsheeting). Was Win ME close enough to Win 2K that I could do "Thai on English"? It was an interesting challenge.

Lastly, my wife was going to be away at a meeting for a few days and that meant I could take my computer apart for a spell without anyone asking to use the computer. Starting from scratch would also give me the opportunity to see if I could reconfigure my cable modem from scratch without technical assistance. If I had any hopes of getting Linux to play with the cable modem, I had to figure out how to do it with Windows first.

Installing ME

On a lark, then, I picked up a copy of Win ME from my local Costco (similar to Makro in Thailand). The software is actually available in 3 versions: a) a "full pack" which allows you to install ME without owning any previous version of Windows, b) a Windows 95/98 upgrade version, and c) a Windows 98 only upgrade version. There's a significant difference in price between these three versions: a) costs US$170, b) costs US$88, and c) costs $46. No way was I going to pay $100 or anywhere near that amount (a ridiculous amount in my opinion), so I was resigned to using the cheapest Win 98-only upgrade version.

Whenever I upgrade Windows, I ALWAYS do a fresh install - i.e. I never try to upgrade an existing Windows installation in situ. This is just asking for trouble. Luckily, I had a spare hard disk available, so I just removed my working Win 98 hard disk (my backup!), replaced it with the spare, and FDISK'ed any existing partitions to data heaven. OEM versions of Windows like to be installed onto hard disks with no partitions, but not so the upgrade. I was forced to create a DOS partition for the setup program to run on. Fortunately, I had my Win 98 OEM CD handy and I used that to boot into DOS to FDISK and format the partition.

The Win 98 OEM CD also allows you to boot to DOS while loading generic CD-ROM drivers. This allowed me to run SETUP from the Win ME CD. During the installation, ME naturally complained that it couldn't find my Win 98 files, but it was a simple matter to feed it my Win 98 CD for the verification process, and then swap it out in favour of the ME CD to continue with the installation. As Windows installations go, this one went uneventfully.

Installing Applications

All installations of Windows feel speedy when they're brand new and this was no exception. The moment of truth would come after I'd finished installing my complete suite of programs, a process that usually takes a good part of a day. The last time I installed Win 98, it slowed down visibly when all of my programs were in place. I was afraid that the same would happen, but was nonetheless mildly hopeful since ME already had most of the newest system files/drivers in place. Well, lo and behold, after everything was completed, ME had lost very little of its speed. Granted, it's still early, but for the time being, I'm in Windows heaven.

It should be noted though, that besides ME, several other changes were made compared to my Win 98 installation:

  • I installed Microsoft Office 2000 Professional (English) instead of Office 97 Professional (Thai).
  • I'm running Internet Explorer v5.5 instead of v5.0, because ME comes pre-installed with IE v5.5.
  • I decided against installing my usual trio of web browsers (Opera, Netscape and IE), cutting Netscape out of the picture once and for all.
  • I'm running Zone Alarm as my firewall program rather than Norton Firewall.
  • I declined to install my @Home cable modem programs, relying instead on my own set of internet programs.

In my opinion, none of the above should be able to explain why ME continues to be speedy. The only thing I could imagine is ME's discarding of DOS real mode (note: ME still runs on top of DOS, unlike Windows NT/2000). What this means is that DOS programs or batch commands run from AUTOEXEC.BAT (i.e. before Windows loads) won't function. Likewise, any CONFIG.SYS settings will be summarily discarded as well.

Re-Configuring My Cable Modem

As I had indicated in my cable modem write-up, I was "lucky" that my cable modem's TCP/IP settings were manually setup for me. Before installing ME, I carefully documented all of the TCP/IP settings under Win 98 and recreated them under ME. I chose not to install any of the @Home programs that came with my cable modem though, since I never used them anyway. Besides, the AT&T; technician who performed the installation confirmed that it was possible to configure Linux to use the cable modem and if that was the case, then these @Home programs couldn't be prerequisites since there was no way to run them under Linux. To make a long story short, the duplicated TCP/IP settings worked perfectly. Hooray!

Thai on English

So far, so good. My next challenge would be to get Thai to work with my desired applications. Past experiences with Internet Explorer v5.0 have shown that it's fairly easy to "update" English IE to handle Thai. Simply access a website that displays Thai characters (I went to https://www.sanook.com), and Windows will suggest you download some unicode patches. With my cable modem, this took only a few seconds, but I also did this before via regular modem in Thailand, so I know it works.

With IE v5.5, to view Thai, you have to change the "encoding" (click "View" and then "Encoding") to Thai. Switching encoding can be handled easiest by creating an encoding "button" on the toolbar. If you want, you can leave the encoding on "Thai", although the fonts will be a bit different as will the line spacing. With English text, it's still eminently readable, but I prefer to switch to English encoding (i.e. "Western European") so that it better matches the display of my other web browser, Opera.

I knew though, that the biggest problem was going to be getting Microsoft Office (mainly Word and Excel) to handle Thai. While the unicode patches allowed English Word to display Thai text from existing Word files, there was no way to enter or edit Thai text. After some internet research, I realized that I would need two things: some Thai fonts and a Thai/English keyboard switcher.

While there are numerous sources of Thai fonts on the internet, I chose to extract my Thai TrueType fonts from my Win 98/Thai CD instead. The fonts can be found in the following files - WIN98_52.CAB, WIN98_53.CAB and WIN98_54.CAB - under the WIN98 directory. Once I extracted all of the .TTF files, I deleted the English fonts and used the "Fonts" applet under Control Panel to install the Thai fonts.

As for the keyboard switcher, I chose to use TWIN95, a freeware program found at https://www.soma.npa.uiuc.edu/~kitipong/twin95/. TWIN95 actually copies a Thai keyboard layout to the Windows\System directory and patches the registry a bit. You then add the Thai language via the "Keyboard" applet under the Control Panel, making sure to enable the display of the keyboard flag in the system tray (identical to how Windows 98/Thai handles language switching).

For more information on Thai language support under Windows, Mac, Unix, etc., check out the following links:


Alas, nothing's perfect and I've found a few bugaboos, none of which are fatal, thankfully.

  • Windows 98/Thai allows you to switch between Thai and English by using the ` key. With TWIN95 (as with Windows 2000), you have to choose between Left-Alt/Shift or Ctrl-Shift. I chose the former. But let's not forget that there's also a language indicator in the system tray that can be clicked to change languages as well.
  • While TWIN95 works fine under Word, with Excel there are certain problems when entering or editing text. If you directly enter/edit text in a cell, the "sara" won't appear until after you've pressed Enter. If you don't edit text within a cell, the font size in the edit field will be tiny, but the sara will show up properly during editing.
  • Because my Eudora email client is configured to use English-only fonts, to read Thai email messages, I normally cut and paste the text into Thai Word and read it there. Alas, this doesn't work with English Word 2000. Instead, I have to save the message as a text file and then open the text file within Word 2000. When loading the text file, Word detects that the file is non-English and will ask what language encoding to use. Choose Thai and the message will display properly.

Final Words

Would I recommend that people upgrade to Win ME? As with all things, if what you have works, I'd suggest that you don't change it. While my results so far have been very encouraging (to my surprise, frankly), I just haven't used ME long enough to know if it will deteriorate over time as Win 98 clearly does. Also, I have yet to install all of my children's games, which will REALLY prove whether everything on my hard disk can live together in peace. Only time will tell.

Copyright © 2000, Thiravudh Khoman