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Windows 2000 to make Comdex debut?

While it won't commit to any dates, Microsoft plans to launch the operating system at the computer trade show set for mid-November in Las Vegas, according to some analysts.

Is Microsoft planning a Comdex coming-out party for its long-delayed Windows 2000 operating system?

While it won't commit to any dates, the Redmond, Washington-based software maker plans to do just that at the big Fall Comdex computer trade show set for mid-November in Las Vegas, according to some analysts.

Speaking in Austin, Texas, at a Dell Computer event, Microsoft chief executive Bill Gates said: "We're pretty sure the bits will go final before the end of the year," alluding to the timeline for Windows 2000.

Michael Kwatinetz of Credit Suisse First Boston today issued a "strong buy" rating for Microsoft on the belief that the business operating system is on track for late-year release and a gala launch at Comdex.

"We believe Microsoft will launch Windows 2000 officially at the November Comdex," wrote Kwatinetz in a bulletin today. "We believe it is now very likely that the final product will ship early in 2000."

Microsoft was elusive about its Comdex plans. "Comdex is in November. Halloween is in October. There are lots of events that take place between now and when we ship this product," said Craig Beilinson, lead product manager for Windows 2000. "We're going to ship it when it's ready."

Launching Windows 2000, formerly called Windows NT, at the trade show would bolster Microsoft's position with Wall Street and customers, despite concerns of slower sales resulting from the Year 2000 technology problem, analysts believe.

The company has been heavily criticized for repeated delays that pushed Windows 2000's expected delivery back by more than a year, into the second half of 1999, when many companies plan to freeze computer purchases while they assess the effects of Year 2000 issues.

When Windows 2000 will be ready is the question. Microsoft says it will not release a final version to manufacturers before the end of the year, which would mean customers would not be able to purchase it installed on PC systems before February or possibly March.

But the end of the year is definitely the target for releasing the final code, said Microsoft officials. PC manufacturers contacted agreed that a Comdex launch for Windows 2000 would make sense.

Microsoft released the third beta of Windows 2000 in April and claims a quarter of a million beta testers. The so-called Release Candidate 1 rolled out on July 1 and the second release candidate is expected by mid September.

Besides bug fixes, Microsoft increased computer and device support with each beta.

Availability will depend on feedback after Release Candidate 2, said Beilinson. "If testers say this is the product, we'll do everything we can to shrink wrap it and ship it."

Analysts speculated a third release candidate is not unlikely, which could spoil any Comdex plans and Microsoft's self-imposed end-of-year deadline.

"This is like the second release of the third beta. Clearly the product has had more betas than anything else we've seen before, and they will probably continue as bugs show up," said Jim Garden, analyst with Technology Business Research. "I'm sure their marketers would love to use Comdex as a platform to launch the product, but there is still a lot of bug fixing going on."

PC manufacturers said privately it's anyone's guess whether Microsoft will get Windows 2000 out the door by December 31. But they're betting Microsoft will meet the goal.

One thing that won't happen: separate release dates. There has been some speculation Microsoft would release the Professional version, for PCs and workstations, earlier while it wrapped up problems with Windows 2000 Server. But Beilinson said this would not happen. Both versions will ship together.

"Even if it's delayed a few more months, I don't see it as that big a deal," said James Gruener, analyst with the Aberdeen Group. "Many large customers don't plan on deploying Windows 2000 before the first service pack comes out, and that could be a year later."

News.com's Michael Kanellos contributed to this report from Austin, Texas.