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Windows ME (Millennium Edition)

Microsoft's latest version of TweakUI now works with Windows 2000, as well as most previous versions, and has some new options up its software sleeve.Microsoft's latest version of TweakUI now works with Windows 2000, as well as most previous versions, and has some new options up its software sleeve.

Martin Walker finds out what's new in Windows Millennium Edition and explores the latest version of Native Instruments' Pro‑5 VST Instrument, renamed the Pro52.

Microsoft's latest — the Windows Millennium Edition (otherwise known as Windows ME) was officially launched on 14th September. At the time, I noticed at least one major PC supplier offering half price memory if you bought it at midnight on that day. Perhaps this encouragement was being provided because they were expecting a slow uptake, especially with the full version at around £140. Upgrade versions are considerably cheaper — if you already have Windows 95 you can upgrade for £80, and from Windows 98 or 98SE for £40. Of course, new PCs will be shipped with Windows Me already installed, but should you take the plunge? Let's see what's new, and then you can decide for yourself.

All About Me

Here's the front panel of Native Instruments' new Pro52 showing all the new features. Notice that it's being used as a VST Insert effect rather than as an Instrument.Here's the front panel of Native Instruments' new Pro52 showing all the new features. Notice that it's being used as a VST Insert effect rather than as an Instrument.

Installation should prove quicker, since the serial number and any required user‑settings are requested near the start, leaving you in peace for the majority of the process. Once you restart your computer, Windows 98 users will probably not notice any difference other than a new loading screen and a few redesigned icons. When you start exploring, one of the main changes you'll notice is the graphic makeover. This brings ME more into line with the look of Windows 2000 Professional, although this is only at a surface level, since it's essentially still an improved version of Windows 98 underneath.

Two of the biggest new components are already available for free download from the Microsoft web site for existing users. As I explained in PC Notes September 2000, Internet Explorer 5.5 is faster and less prone to crashes than its predecessors, while Dave Shapton discussed Windows Media Player 7 in the same issue in his Cutting Edge column. Essentially, it now integrates the CD player, has a wider range of improved streaming codecs, and the option of 'skins' for a variety of graphic looks. Also in the multimedia area the Windows Movie Maker provides simple video editing facilities for those with a suitable capture card or graphics card with appropriate driver support.

If you ever get problems booting Windows, Safe Mode now has a new step‑by‑step recovery feature to help you sort out the problem, and the new System File Protection feature should prevent conflicts and obscure crashes caused by applications trying to overwrite vital shared system files — different applications can now save and access their own preferred versions of system files to avoid such problems. System Restore takes this process even further, by letting you save Restore points at any time, so that in the event of future problems you can return your system to exactly the state it was previously. In a similar vein, the Hibernate power option lets you power‑down your PC with all your current applications intact, so that when you next switch it on, everything will be exactly as you left it. This sounds great, but such schemes have often been thwarted in the past by motherboard incompatibilities.

Smaller changes include the ability to associate file types with more than one application — for those with multiple audio editors and MIDI sequencers, this could certainly be useful. If your PC has long lists of Programs on its Start Menu or loads of Internet Favorites (sic), the new Personalised Menus may prove useful, as they automatically hide menu options that aren't used very often. You can still get back the remaining rarely used ones on demand, or disable this feature altogether if you prefer. The on‑line Help and Support system is easier to use, and the System Information tool has also been revised to bring it in line with Windows 2000.

One of the biggest changes is that like Windows 2000, DOS is no longer involved during the Windows ME bootup — the screens full of text no longer whizz by, and there is no Startup menu screen option. Although this does mean that you should reach the Windows desktop more quickly, and you can still launch a DOS window once running Windows itself, this streamlining may cause some users problems on the admittedly rare occasions that they want to flash a BIOS update or format a new drive from DOS. Autoexec.bat and config.sys files are now redundant, so the few people who still need these to configure their PCs can't any more. In fact, the only way to run DOS by itself is now using a floppy startup disk, and this also means that utilities that need real‑mode support (like the popular PowerQuest Partition Magic) won't operate.

Windows ME is still essentially the same operating system as Windows 98, and for that matter Windows 95, but with the look and feel of Windows 2000. As always, there might be a few hardware driver incompatibilities, so if you decide to upgrade, then do check first to see whether your expansion cards need new driver versions installing to run correctly with Windows ME. By the same token, if you intend clean installing Windows ME on a newly formatted hard drive, don't assume that its default drivers will provide the best performance — look on your hardware manufacturer's web sites to see if better optimised drivers are available.

Overall there's nothing that makes Windows ME an essential upgrade for existing Windows 98 users. However, those musicians who have upgraded or have been running the Beta versions for some time generally agree that it's the most stable Windows O/S to date, and those still holding out with Windows 95 might find this 'Windows 98 version 3' tempting enough to take the plunge.


Native Instruments have now started shipping the new version of their Pro‑5 VST Instrument. This is rather more than a simple update, since it has a variety of new features, along with a new name — the Pro52. It arrives on a completely new CD‑ROM with Native Instrument's two‑hole protection, and existing users will need to send in their current CD‑ROM to upgrade, along with £20. However, I'm sure most users will undergo this inconvenience and small expense, as the new features are well worth having.

The most obvious change is the depth of the front panel (the width is identical) which is now significantly deeper to accommodate four rows of controls instead of three. Various sections such as the amplifier ADSR controls have moved, and this is largely to make way for the new Delay Effect section that provides a surprising range of delay, chorus, flanging, and echo effects. The secret of its rich, lush sound is that it provides four delay‑processors in parallel, and you can use a dedicated control to spread their delays between zero and the current Time setting. This varies between 1mS for flanging, through slapback echo settings to a full one‑second delay for long echoes, There are Rate and Depth controls for the in‑built LFO to modulate these delay times.

Feedback is available to provide hard flanging or multiple echoes, low‑cut and high‑cut filters let you EQ the wet sound, and the Wet/Dry control lets you mix with the untreated signal. An Invert button enables you to get more 'inside‑out' sounds from your flanging, while the Sync button locks or unlocks the four LFO waveforms, depending on whether you want harder sounds or more diffuse ones. Finally, the MIDI button allows you to synchronise delay time to the current song tempo, when the Time control switches, to provide delays with repeats at quarter notes, eighth notes, sixteenth notes, and so on. These effects can fatten sounds up and bring them to life, but existing Pro‑5 presets load in with the Delay section switched off, so that you don't get any nasty surprises.

Native Instruments have also made the most of the LFO waveform buttons — with all buttons on, you now get a sample and hold waveform (particularly useful with filter frequency), and with all buttons off you get a DC value, which is ideal for performing manual sync and filter sweeps from the Modulation wheel. The Tune button of the Pro‑5, that added random 'analogue' variations to various parameters, has been replaced by an Analog (sic) rotary control that gives fully variable randomness, and also lets you add lots more than before. There are also a few smaller touches — the preset name now appears within the Programmer panel, and you can now dump the current values of all controls as MIDI controller messages.

There are two additional ways of using the Pro52 compared with its predecessor. It now has an 'External In' level control, and so can be pressed into service as a VST plug‑in effect. In this mode you can process other sounds through its filter, amplifier, and effect section, by choosing the Pro52fx option in your plug‑ins list, and then triggering the ADSR envelopes by playing any note from a separate MIDI track routed to Pro52fx. This creates numerous sound opportunities, especially since you can sync the effects to tempo! You can also launch Pro52 in a standalone version for use with non‑VST‑compatible sequencers like Cakewalk Pro Audio, and in this form there's a special option of being able to import Prophet 5‑compatible system exclusive data. Overall, it's a significant improvement on an already good product.

PC Snippets

Bitheadz have now updated their Unity DS1 softsampler to version 2.0 on the PC, to bring it into line with the Mac version. Its improved performance will give all users more voices, and those using a Pentium III are particularly likely to reach the new maximum of 128 stereo voices, as well as up to 128 MIDI channels across eight device drivers. A new 'oscillator stretching' feature lets you change the tempo of loops without altering their pitch, and along with new filter and effect options, version 2.0 also features better integration with popular sequencers (

Sonic Foundry have now released Vegas Video, a multi‑track video system for automated real‑time editing and creation. Suitable for video and broadcast production, streaming video, and multimedia creation, Vegas Video integrates video compositing, audio editing and advanced encoding tools into one package. Might be very useful for promoting your next single! (

Microsoft have released an updated version 1.33 of their TweakUI utility which works universally with Windows 95, 98, 98SE, ME, NT, and 2000. The tweakui.exe file is only 111Kb, and when run, expands into four files that you should place in your Windows\System folder. Then right‑click on tweakui.inf and choose the Install option but don't forget to uninstall any previous version first. There are now 13 tabbed pages of options, and one of the most useful new settings is on the General page — 'Prevent applications from stealing focus' stops those annoying Internet pop‑up ads from grabbing the page you're scrolling through. This is the first time that TweakUI has been available to Win 2000 users, but this latest version is well worth downloading whatever Windows O/S you're running (

Users of Syntrillium's Cool Edit 2000 will be pleased to hear that a free 433Kb download now adds DirectX support, so that you can use any DirectX plug‑in effect. A free Tremolo plug‑in is also available from the web site (

Tiny Tips

I'm sure the majority of you know that during a thunderstorm you should switch off your computer gear, since it can be 'fried' in a microsecond should lightning strike the power lines. You should also unplug it, since even when switched off a surge capable of doing untold damage can still travel down the power cable while it's attached to the wall socket. Any appliances plugged into telephone sockets and containing semiconductor devices (such as modems) should also be unplugged.

During a downpour recently I heard a single clap of thunder, and immediately disconnected all my gear for the duration. Unfortunately, I left my modem plugged in, and it didn't survive to tell the tale. Thankfully, I use an external modem, which doesn't occupy an expansion slot or an additional IRQ in my PC, and which also gives me useful visual feedback via its LED readout during use. I say thankfully, because if you have an internal one lightning damage can spread to other components in your PC. I've heard various reports of PCs with internal modems where the motherboard, PSU, floppy and hard drive were also destroyed. Needless to say, I've bought another external one!