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Microsoft putting final touches on Windows 2000

The software giant says it's getting closer to shipping the final versions of its long-delayed Windows 2000 operating system for businesses.

Microsoft says it's getting closer to shipping the final versions of its long-delayed Windows 2000 operating system for businesses.

The company today detailed the specific features each version of Windows 2000, formerly called Windows NT, will offer and said it will deliver in early September a second "release candidate" to testers and members of the company's preview program.

These versions of the OS are different from the consumer operating system, now called Windows 98, that most people use. Microsoft's next consumer operating system will meld together bits and pieces of both Windows 98 and Windows 2000, according to those who have seen an early version of that release.

The second release candidate of Windows 2000 comes just two months after Microsoft released its first release candidate. Software code is referred to as release candidates when a company is ready to sell the product. Based on testers' feedback, Microsoft is now performing minor tweaks to the operating system.

The Windows 2000 operating system, which will replace Windows NT 4.0, is aimed at helping Microsoft compete better in the high-end computing market, now dominated by IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, and others.

Microsoft executives today said the company is still on track to ship the final version of Windows 2000 by the end of the year. It all depends on the second release candidate, said Craig Beilinson, Microsoft's lead product manager for Windows 2000.

"If our customers say, 'ship it,' then this is the one," he said. "But if we still have work to do, we'll work on the product until we get it right."

Beilinson said the company made some improvements to Windows 2000 based on feedback of the first release candidate, but he declined to give further details until the second release candidate is delivered around Labor Day.

Microsoft today also spelled out the specific features for the desktop version and three server editions of Windows 2000 targeted at different corporate computing tasks:

• Windows 2000 Professional is the desktop and laptop operating system for business users. It supports PCs using up to two processors.

• The low-end Windows 2000 Server is a network OS aimed at company departments, and can support up to four processors per server.

• The Windows 2000 Advanced Server for e-commerce Web sites, and the high-end Windows 2000 Datacenter for large corporations, will support clustering and load balancing for better reliability.

The Advanced Server will support eight processors and can cluster together two servers, while the Datacenter can support 32 processors and cluster four servers together.

Clustering is the ability to tie together two or more computing systems for greater power and protection against failures. Load balancing is the ability to distribute transactions evenly as so they won't overload the system.

The Datacenter edition is for large companies which are involved in heavy-duty data warehousing work, Microsoft executives said.

A feature found only on the Datacenter version allows users to set priorities for certain applications. For example, users can give priority to online transactions during the day but at night, give priority to inventory reports, said Aubrey Edwards, group product manager for Microsoft's business enterprise division.

Beilinson said the three server editions of Windows 2000 will all include improved security and support COM+, which includes Microsoft's application server, Web server, and messaging software--tools used to build e-commerce Web sites by running the transactions between Web browsers and back-end services. The three server editions will also support older desktop versions of Windows, such as 3.1, 95, and 98.

Microsoft will deliver the Datacenter edition three to four months after the other versions ship. Pricing won't be announced until Microsoft ships the final versions, Beilinson said.

Among the new features in Windows 2000 is new technology called IntelliMirror, which will allow users to store an "image" of their desktops on a back-end Windows 2000 server system.