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Microsoft ships delayed beta of Millennium OS

Microsoft's announcement last week touting a first version of its Millennium operating system was a bit premature, but the company has finally shipped the first beta.

Microsoft's announcement last week touting a first version of its Millennium operating system was a bit premature, but the company has finally shipped the first beta of its next consumer operating system to testers.

Last Friday, Microsoft announced it had released the first beta--or test version--of the next-generation operating system for consumers and home PC users. However, the company subsequently confirmed that the prototype software did not actually go out on Friday. It was actually shipped today, the company said.

The beta testing period is used by

Windows to the world
Microsoft continues to add to its operating system stable.
Consumer versions
• Windows 3.11 (and its predecessors)
• Windows 95 (OSR2.5 is the latest version)
• Windows 98
• Windows 98 Second Edition
• Millennium OS (due next year)
Corporate versions
• Windows NT 4 Workstation
• Windows NT 4 Server
• Windows NT 4 Server Enterprise Edition
• Windows NT 4 Server Terminal Server Edition

• Windows 2000 Professional
• Windows 2000 Server
• Windows 2000 Advanced Server
• Windows 2000 Datacenter

software developers to identify and fix bugs before the final release is shipped to stores. Microsoft internal code-name for the operating system is "Millennium."

Delays in software development are fairly routine, and for Microsoft this is hardly new territory. Windows 2000, the corporate OS that is expected to debut at the Comdex trade show in November, has been pushed back repeatedly. Windows 98, the consumer operating system Millennium is designed to replace, was also delayed.

Microsoft's popular Office 2000 software suite was delayed several times, too.

"Today, Microsoft released beta 1 of Millennium, the next version of Windows for consumers, to testers and partners," the company said on Friday. In fact, Millennium was simply not ready in time, a company spokeswoman said yesterday.

Shipping delays have an impact on PC makers and home PC users, as well as retailers who sell the standalone version. In addition, Microsoft is also hurt by this type of tardiness--the company's stock usually takes a hit whenever a final release date is pushed back.

Typically, Microsoft has blamed delays on the complex process of perfecting operating systems, which will run on many different types of computers with many different software applications. This time, though, the software was not held back because of any specific bug, the spokeswoman said.

"Honestly, I'm not aware of any technical reason of why it was held back. Things take longer than anticipated. It will be released very shortly," she said yesterday.

Millennium is the company's final release in its Windows 98 trilogy, which includes the original Windows 98 as well as Windows 98, Second Edition. After Millennium, which is due late next year in its final form, Microsoft will shift its next consumer operating system to the Windows 2000 code base, which is considered more stable than the Windows 98 family of products.

Millennium focuses on improving four key areas, according to Microsoft: simplicity and ease-of-use; greater digital media and entertainment support; home networking; and improved online access from the desktop. The first beta focused on the simplicity features, which are designed to ensure a computer "just works," according to the company.

The Millennium beta testing group consists of about 5,000 testers, the spokeswoman said, who will be notified when the first beta is eventually ready later this week. "It will be ready really, really soon," she promised.

The delay was first reported by BetaNews, a Web site for beta testers. "It is very possible a last-minute bug was discovered which would have jeopardized the widespread release," according to the site.

"There's nothing really to point to," the spokeswoman said. "It's just taking slightly longer than we thought it would."