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Windows 98? Millennium Edition?
Windows 2000? or Windows XP?

Last Updated March 9, 2005

QUESTION: Is Windows ME worth installing? Should I install Win98 SE, Win ME, Win 2000 Pro, or Windows XP? I’d hate to upgrade now, then have to do it again down the road. Any strong opinions?

At this point, I am prepared to say that if you are ready for a Windows version upgrade, there is no other choice for most people to make besides Windows XP. First released October 25, 2001, it blows away any general consumer version of Windows that came before it; and the more recent Service Pack 2 (SP2) drew a line in the sand redefining Microsoft’s entire approach to Windows security.

Windows XP is the convergence point between the stability and power of the NT kernel (which had reached its prior apex in Windows 2000), and a strengthened version of the consumer feature set that made Windows 9x so popular.

The one exception to my recommending Windows XP for a general consumer would be if your hardware will not support XP. The minimal hardware required is a 233 Mhz Pentium with 64 MB of RAM; but I doubt anyone wants to run Windows XP on a computer of that vintage. I’ve installed XP on a P-233 with 64 MB of RAM, and know that I wouldn’t want that for my computer. It was slow. I mean, SLOW. The good news, though, was that even while it was struggling along, pushed beyond its hardware’s design expectations, it didn’t crash. Any version of Win9x would have crashed under that kind of stress and strain. Windows XP didn’t.

So, what are functional hardware minimums? Opinions will vary on that, of course. For Win XP, RAM is more important than CPU speed, and I would recommend no less than 128 MB and, preferably, not less than 256 MB. (Get more if you can — XP will make use of pretty much any amount of RAM you throw at it. 512 MB is a very good level for most people.) I would hesitate installing it on a computer with a non-MMX Pentium. Probably, you should have at least Pentium-II, to take advantage of the 32 KB L1 cache, if you plan to be really happy with the computer. Anything from 400-500 MHz generally will be sufficient with enough RAM.

I give links to several informative articles on Windows XP here. I’ll make a few additional remarks below, as I discuss all of the post-Win95 versions of Windows in relationship to each other.


Windows 98, Windows 2000, and Windows XP are all excellent operating systems, and even Windows ME can be quite pleasing on the right hardware. There will be some differences in my recommendations according to your particular needs and preferences but, generally, all four are strong.

Here are a few differences — painting with a very broad brush:

Strength & Stability

Windows 2000 is “industrial strength.” Turn it on and, if you don’t screw with it excessively much, I recommend you reboot the computer at least once a year whether it needs it or not. Windows XP is almost as robust — indeed, under identical conditions it may be every bit as robust — but its greater focus on leading edge consumer “extras” (especially for multimedia) puts a greater strain on the system than usually has been placed on NT-based computers in the past. Win98 will need to be rebooted every 3-6 days. WinME will need it every 1-2 days.

Multimedia & Snaz

Windows 2000 is the least snazzy “multimedia bells & whistles” OS of the four, but is much stronger in this direction than its predecessor, Windows NT 4. Windows XP is the most snazzy in this department, with Windows ME coming in at a reasonably strong second place. Win98 sits in the middle.

Hardware Compatibility

Windows 98 improved significantly over Windows 95 on the issue of hardware compatibility. You would think that every version thereafter would be a step better, wouldn’t you? If so, you would, unfortunately, be wrong.

Windows ME had the poorest hardware compatibility of any recent version of Windows for the simple reason that many hardware manufacturers never bothered to create drivers for it. Win ME never had industry support or backing. This is one reason why many of us recommended installing Win ME as an upgrade atop a working Win95 or Win98 system when possible, rather than following conventional wisdom of a clean installation being more stable than an upgrade. Win ME as an upgrade would retain the drivers of the earlier version if it didn’t have one of its own and, more often than not, these would work adequately.

Windows 2000 was better at hardware support than Win98 in some ways, and worse than Win98 in other ways. Windows 2000, like its NT predecessors, relies heavily on the published hardware compatibility list. If your hardware is on the HCL, the support is excellent. If not (as is true of quite a lot of legacy hardware), the support is poor. Since each OS does pretty well with hardware that is immediately contemporary to it, this causes me to rank Windows 2000 a little behind Win98 in hardware support. But only a little.

Windows XP has, by far, more hardware support than any version of Windows ever released. If I am recalling correctly, at the time of its launch it supported three times as many hardware items as Win98, and this number doubled in the first six months of its release. Among older hardware, old scanners are probably the category most likely not to work in Win XP — but most of these didn’t work in Win ME either. Due to rapid advances in scanner technology, the major scanner manufacturers, in many cases, made the decision not to take old serial and SCSI scanner support past Win98.

System Resource Depletion

Consumption of free System Resources has been an important and frustrating issue in Windows 9x, at least for many users, due to an architecture that was necessary for the backwards compatibility that has been so important in Windows 9x. With greater emphasis, in recent years, on multimedia functions, graphics-enabled programs, and Internet-enabled programs, as well as more powerful hardware encouraging users to more aggressively multitask, System Resource consumption has become a very serious issue.

The great news is that both Windows 2000 and Windows XP, being based on the NT-kernel, do not have the particular architecture that causes this problem. In fact, the term “System Resources,” as understood in Win 9x, is so not an issue that the term is used for something else altogether!

Win98 and Win ME do, however, have this problem. Of the two, Win98 handles it far, far better. System Resource consumption and management in Win ME are worse than in any other version of Windows.

Managing the Underbelly

Regarding user management of the underbelly of the system, Windows Millennium Edition (ME) allows the least of it, Windows 2000 allows and requires the most of it, and Win98 sits in the middle. Win98 is the only one of the four that has “real mode” DOS (with all the advantages and disadvantages of that).

Windows XP sits outside the framework within which I’ve spoken of the others. When it requires “underbelly” maintenance, XP closely resembles 2000, meaning that it is more difficult than most (non-tech) users usually will want to undertake. The other side of the coin, though, is that Microsoft really seems to have reached a level of self-maintenance with Win XP that simply isn’t present in any of its predecessors. The typical user is far less likely ever to have to do underbelly management.

All four operating systems have excellent tools for system maintenance, in a way that leaves Windows 95 in the dust. Windows 2000 demands a higher level of skill in using these; Windows XP and ME require the least, and are the only ones that have something theoretically approaching a button for, “Ooh! my system got kablooied, please put it back the way it was before I broke it.” This System Restore feature is much better enabled in XP than in ME.

Upgrade Paths

Windows 98 will give you upgrade paths to all of the others if you choose. None of the others does. (All three of the earlier operating systems have upgrade paths to Windows XP.)

In other words, of the operating systems discussed here:


The future for Windows is unquestionably in the Windows NT kernel, which is the foundation of Windows 2000 and XP, rather than in the 9x kernel on which Windows 95, 98, and ME were built. The real question is: When is the best time for this future to reach you, personally? We already have seen a very aggressive push by Microsoft to migrate people toward Windows XP, and this surely will continue. This push is probably justified, since the migration to the NT kernel is something just about everyone in the industry was awaiting for a long time. Windows XP is the consumer version of Windows that everyone has been waiting for since Win95 first hit the streets. Expectations are appropriately high. Win98 and Win ME now have run the course of their MS support cycle other than for paid contract support, though online newsgroup and other non-Microsoft support channels will exist for years to come. A few people, who are very happy with Windows 98, will simply stay with it for a long time, especially if their hardware is contemporary to Win98’s release and may not behave as well with a later OS. The next version of Windows, codenamed Longhorn, is not targetted for release until 2006. All new computers began to be sold with XP-family operating systems around Christmas season 2001, and a significant majority of people have been making the switch to either the Professional or Home Edition of Windows XP in the time since. (See the percentages of people visiting this site using each operating system, over the last year, on my Site Statistics page. Click “Operating Systems” at the left of that page.)

All other things being completely and totally equal, of the Windows operating systems available prior to the release of Windows XP, I personally would use Windows 98 as my operating system of choice. Win98 (either version) is the high-water mark of the Win 9x OS family. On my last Win 9x computer, though, all things were not totally equal. Win98 had a stupid conflict I never was able to resolve that hung my modem unless I went into device manager and deleted it each time before shutting down or rebooting. This allowed it to reinstall and work fine on the next reboot. Against that, I never got my scanner working on Win ME (or, for that matter, on 2000 or XP). But I use my modem constantly, and my scanner a few times a year. And, of course, Win ME boots much faster (its major marketing point, if you trust the ads!). So, for a couple of years, I ran Win ME as my secondary OS (Win XP being my primary OS), and kept my Win98 partition intact on the system for when I wanted it. Had I ever taken the time to get one or the other problem solved so that either one of them gave me both hardware fixes, I would have dropped the other one, and used the liberated partition to try again to install Windows 2000 which, every other time I tried, would never recognize my USB port on that machine.

So, as you can see, none of them is perfect.

But then, neither am I. So there.

Ranking Each OS on Criteria (5-point scale)
Win 98Win ME Win 2KWin XP
Strength, Stability 3254
Multimedia, Snaz 3425
Hardware Compatibility 4235
System Resources 3155
“Underbelly” Management 3334
TOTAL: 161218 23

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