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Microsoft ships third beta version of Windows Me

The company sends the DOS-based consumer line to beta testers, paving the way for the final launch of the next consumer operating system.

Microsoft today released the third beta version of Windows Me, paving the way for the final release of the next consumer operating system.

Microsoft shipped CD-ROMs of Windows Me to beta testers, who will then test the release for lingering bugs as the company prepares to officially launch the final version of the DOS-based consumer Windows line. The code was made available online to testers yesterday.

Although Microsoft always reserves the right to release additional betas, the third beta is usually the last test version before the company prepares the final releases, called "Release Candidates." When the Release Candidate is deemed as close to bug-free as possible, the code is shipped to CD-ROM manufacturers and PC makers, to be loaded on new systems.

Some sources have speculated the OS will be released in May. Microsoft has declined to comment on the release date, except to say that it will come out in the second half of this year. Typically, once the code is released to manufacturers, it takes about six weeks to arrive in stores.

Windows Me, code-named Millennium, is the first operating system from the software maker solely focused on the home user. As such, Windows Me has been streamlined to simplify adding hardware peripherals, using digital imaging and media devices and recovering from system crashes, the company said.

Microsoft has decided to drop support for some corporate networking technologies, and delayed making Windows 2000 available for home users. That version of consumer windows, which is expected to offer the stability and reliability of Windows 2000, is due out within the next three years.

With Windows Me, the company focuses on four main areas: PC health, digital media, home networking and improved online experience. The third beta specifically addresses advances in digital media, a technology that has skyrocketed in popularity since the release of Windows 98 Second Edition last year.

With Windows Me, Microsoft also has continued to bundle unrelated technologies into the operating system, such as links to MSN Web sites and integration of Internet Explorer. This despite the fact that the company's bundling of IE with Windows 95 spurred the antitrust case that recently brought a ruling against Microsoft.

Windows Me development Windows 2000: The next generationhas seen many twists and turns within Microsoft. Originally, Windows 98 was to be the last DOS-based operating system for home users to come from the Redmond, Wash.-based software maker. But a combination of product delays and market shifts led the company to push back the planned transition to its Windows NT code base. (Windows NT is the precursor to Windows 2000.) Instead, it released Windows 98 Second Edition in 1999 and announced that Windows Me would be the last DOS-based operating system from the company.

Other new features include:

• System Restore, which restores deleted critical system files
• Auto Update, which automatically downloads updates from the Windows Update site
• Home Networking Wizard, designed to simplify adding computers or peripherals to a home network
• Windows Image Acquisition, designed to simplify downloading and saving images from digital cameras
• Windows Movie Maker digital video editing software