The company today announced the first beta, or testing version, of the successor to Windows 95 and 98, code-named Millennium.
The beta comes as the much-delayed Windows 2000--the renamed Windows NT 5 which is Microsoft's corporate-class operating system--moves closer to release. The company is stepping up plans for a gala product launch at the Comdex computer tradeshow in November in Las Vegas.
Windows to the world
Microsoft continues to add to its operating system stable.
Windows 95 (OSR2.1 is the latest version)
Windows 98 Second Edition
Millennium OS (due next year)
Windows NT 4
Windows NT 4 Server
Windows NT 4 Server Enterprise Edition
Windows NT 4 Server Terminal Server Edition
Windows 2000 Professional
Microsoft sent the beta to a small number of beta testers and developers. For this first beta, which is not publicly available, Microsoft is making Millennium easier to use and more reliable than Windows 98.
A new System File Protection tool will help prevent the corruption, overwriting, or deletion of essential system files. Microsoft engineered SFP to solve the problem of new programs overwriting shared files available to Windows and other software with older file versions.
Millennium Beta 1 also focuses on overall improved stability, faster startup, and better use of memory.
The bigger changes may be in Microsoft's Consumer Windows Division, which like other groups at Microsoft is putting a greater emphasis on customer satisfaction at the behest of company president Steve Ballmer.
"As far as the product goes, the most important changes are in the division itself," said Art Pettigrue, CDW product manager for Microsoft. "The focus is on the consumer and making it, for example, simple and fun to get online, to learn, to shop, to play games, and things like that."
"We're clearly evaluating increased network support," said Pettigrue.
Millennium also will add on to new features introduced with Windows 98 Section Edition, such as improved networking. Windows 98 SE, released in early summer, offers the ability to share an Internet connection among several PCs.
But consumers want more, said Mark Bates, an analyst at PC Data "One of the things that first-time consumers want is much easier setup of home networking. Right now, to do it is straightforward already, but not if you've never done it."
Microsoft plans another beta by year's end with release scheduled for some time next year. But sources close to Microsoft predicted delivery of Millennium no later than summer.
At the same time, Microsoft is more confident Windows 2000 will be finalized and released to manufacturing before the end of the year. It would then show up on new PCs about six weeks later and store shelves soon after.
Conflicting reports yesterday indicated final code would be ready by the end of November but also by the end of December. No matter which date is correct, Microsoft has big Comdex plans.
"You'll certainly hear a lot of noise about Windows 2000 at Comdex, whether we announce the product there or not, because this launch is bigger than the launch of Microsoft. It's really an industry launch," said Craig Beilinson, lead product manager for Windows 2000.
Microsoft last week sent a nearly final version, Windows 2000 Release Candidate 2, to up to 650,000 beta testers. Most of the changes made between RC1 and RC2 relate to "fit and finish" with the user interface, said Beilinson.
Sources close to Microsoft said the company is extremely confident, almost bullish, about getting Windows 2000 out the door by the end of November based on beta tester feedback.