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Microsoft puts Millennium to second test

The company quietly releases to testers the latest version of its new operating system for home PCs during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Microsoft quietly released to testers the latest version of its new operating system for home computers during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Software companies generally use the months preceding the official launch of any new application to test it with users and developers, in what is commonly referred to as a "beta" test.

The second beta of Microsoft's planned successor to Windows 98 and Windows 2000, which goes by the code name Millennium, was sent to testers and developers last Wednesday, the company said.

Although still in development, Millennium's lifecycle has already been marked by confusion and turmoil within Microsoft's consumer software strategy. After publicly proclaiming that Windows 98 would be the last consumer operating system based on the DOS operating system, the company reversed itself by releasing Windows 98 Second Edition earlier this year and announcing plans for Millennium.

Some have speculated that the company's unclear strategy was a result of repeated delays in bringing Windows 2000, Microsoft's upcoming corporate operating system, to market. Touted as more stable and reliable than Windows 95 and 98, Microsoft plans to eventually base its consumer operating systems on Windows 2000, as well. Windows 2000 will be released on February 17.

Microsoft also recently made available a minor update to its Internet Explorer Web browser. The 5.01 version addresses a variety of bug issues and contains other enhancements.

Operating system software such as Millennium is designed to act as a liaison between the computer hardware, software and peripheral devices. This particular version emphasizes increased simplicity, support for popular digital music and entertainment applications, and home networking, according to Microsoft.

Specifically, the new OS will include enhanced management of digital photography, automated disk space management for games and automatic configuration of game input devices, such as joysticks, Microsoft says. In addition, Millennium will be the first Microsoft product to include Universal Plug and Play, the company's technology to ease home networking applications.

Microsoft says it expects to release Millennium sometime next year.

"Windows Millennium further embraces the effort to simplify the PC," Microsoft said in a statement. "Millennium offers technologies that streamline the start-up process, increase support for a myriad of hardware components and proactively seek to prevent system problems before they occur."

Initially expected to include a noticeable overhaul of the look and feel of the Windows interface, sources said Millennium has been scaled back to focus mainly on the three core areas, as well as reflect Microsoft's efforts to simplify the PC experience. When released, Millennium will probably look and feel much like Windows 2000, according to BetaNews, a testing Web site.

"While Microsoft claims that Millennium brings a whole new user experience, some testers argue that much like Windows 98, it is just an expensive patch consolidated into a marketable product," BetaNews said earlier this year.

"Millennium at this point more closely resembles a service pack, much like Windows 98 Second Edition. However, Microsoft stresses that behind the scenes changes will become noticeable in the long run, leading to a better overall user experience," the testing site said.