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Final Windows 2000 release expected by year-end

The software giant delivers an initial "release candidate" to testers and members of the company's preview program, meaning it's on track for the end of the year.

Microsoft has taken the first steps toward final release of Microsoft's long-delayed Windows 2000 desktop and server operating system.

Microsoft has completed a testing process consisting of three so-called beta releases of the Windows 2000 software code. Now the company has delivered an initial "release candidate" to testers and members of the company's preview program.

News of the release candidate comes nine weeks after the company delivered beta three of Windows 2000, previously known as Windows NT.

After numerous release date revisions, Microsoft appears to be on track to deliver the Windows 2000 upgrade by the end of the year, barring last-minute glitches, according to industry observers. But the company's efforts to stay on a revised timetable have previously been met with skepticism from analysts.

"We currently estimate that a [final release] will be around the end of this year," said Craig Beilinson, a Windows 2000 product manager at Microsoft.

Software code is referred to as a release candidate when a company perceives it to be ready for sale. Microsoft will likely perform relatively minor tweaks to the operating system from this point forward, looking for its customers to essentially sign off on the product. The last test version was the first Windows 2000 beta that was essentially "feature complete."

Microsoft expects to have at least two release candidates--spaced about every five to nine weeks--before the Windows 2000 code is released to manufacturing, according to Beilinson. "It's really going to depend on feedback from customers," he said.

The executive said about 100,000 testers will be part of the release candidate process.

Windows 2000 comprises a workstation version called Professional as well as various server-side versions targeted at different corporate computing tasks.

On the server side, Windows 2000 Server Standard Edition and Windows 2000 Advanced Server versions will come out simultaneously, while a third version--Windows 2000 Datacenter Server--will be released 90 to 120 days after the other versions ship, according to the company.

The upgrade is intended to help Microsoft play a greater role in high-end computing, a lucrative market now dominated by the likes of Sun Microsystems, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and the former Digital Equipment arm of Compaq Computer, among others.

With the release of Windows 2000, Microsoft executives also hope to blunt the progress made by alternatives such as Linux.

Among the features in Windows 2000 is new directory technology called Active Directory, and a feature called IntelliMirror that will essentially allow a user to store an "image" of his desktop on a back-end Windows 2000 server system.

Analysts said the company has had ample time to make sure Windows 2000 is ready--a result of several delays in the development process. "They were able to work out the kinks beforehand," said Dwight Davis, software analyst with industry consultants Summit Strategies.

Now the company will need to focus on getting third-party software developers to finalize their own products for the Windows 2000 release. "The big issue for most people has been getting applications to run on it," Davis said.

There has been some confusion among third-party developers as to requirements for Windows 2000 certification, according to Davis. Microsoft will likely turn to those issues now that the release candidate is in the hands of testers, he said.

Microsoft's Beilinson said the recent release of an application compatibility "framework" for Windows 2000 should alleviate third-party concerns.