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Windows Me shuts out some third-party applications

Microsoft confirms that because of changes designed to solidify Windows Me's reliability, the new operating system is incompatible with a variety of third-party applications.

Because of changes designed to solidify Windows Me's reliability, the new operating system is incompatible with a variety of third-party applications, Microsoft has confirmed.

Windows Me, the new operating system for home-PC users, goes on sale today. It has been designed to be more stable and cause fewer crashes than previous versions, including Windows 98 and Windows 98, Second Edition.

But these changes essentially break a slew of applications from companies including McAfee.com, Symantec, Adaptec and Quarterdeck, Microsoft has confirmed.

Windows Me, which is considered a fairly minor update to Windows 98, focuses on three other areas in addition to system reliability: digital media, better Internet support and new home-networking features.

"We did a couple of things with Windows Me that really helped solve a bunch of other issues but ended up creating temporary issues with eight applications," said Greg Sullivan, product manager for Windows Me at Microsoft. "The good news is virtually all of them have updates available, or will shortly."

Basically, the problems are caused by a new feature in Windows Me: System File Protection. This feature "prevents core files from being overwritten," according to Sullivan. In the past, many outside applications overwrote certain system files, an action that Microsoft says results in a more crash-prone PC.

By eliminating the ability to overwrite system files, Windows Me is less likely to crash, Sullivan says. But some application developers have not yet updated their programs to recognize this change.

According to Dan Kusnetzky, a software analyst at International Data Corp., Microsoft was right to work on improving the stability of the operating system, but the company's approach was heavy-handed.

"It's a reasonable way to handle the problem; it's too easy for people to change something which affects the entire operation of the system," Kusnetzky said, noting that many developers are forced to update these files. "There are a number of places where basic Microsoft-supplied (system files) are not sufficient."

Although some businesses and larger organizations will be able to continue purchasing PCs with Windows 95 or Windows 98--which do not refuse to allow applications to overwrite system files--average users do not have that choice, according to Kusnetzky. Windows Me is focused on home-PC users and will ship on all new consumer PCs.

"If you're a consumer, you're out of luck," Kusnetzky said.

In addition to the incompatibility caused by System File Protection, Microsoft is grappling with some other Windows Me bugs. Microsoft is investigating a reported vulnerability that may allow attackers to crash or reboot a Windows Me computer running a TV software package. And Microsoft is warning Windows Me users that America Online's Instant Messenger may cause problems with some Internet connections.

Microsoft will eventually post all available updates on its Web site, Sullivan said.

Windows Me is currently incompatible with these programs:

• McAfee's Dr. Solomon AV version 7.70

• Network ICE's BlackICE Defender

• Symantec's Norton Internet Security

• eNova Software's SOS-Best Defense

• Network Associates' PGP Personal Privacy

• Certain versions of Adaptec's GoBack

• Quarterdeck's Select-It 1.0

• StopLight 95