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New test version of Whistler arrives

With all the hoopla over the release of the Linux 2.4.0 kernel last week, Microsoft's delivery of a new test version of "Whistler" got lost in the shuffle.

With all the hoopla over the release of the Linux 2.4.0 kernel last week, Microsoft's delivery of a new test version of its Windows 2000 successor, code-named Whistler, got lost in the shuffle.

Microsoft issued the latest beta, labeled "build 2410," of its next version of Windows on Thursday, according to Whistler testers. New in this version are many user-interface tweaks, as well as the incorporation of new anti-piracy code, according to testers.

Whistler's release, expected later this year, will most likely be the most important--and potentially the most lucrative--product delivery in 2001 for Microsoft. The new operating system is Microsoft's replacement for Windows Me for consumers and Windows 2000 for businesses.

The company is also expected to debut a new version of its Office software suite, called Office 10, later this year.

Microsoft launched its first test version of Whistler in late October. The new beta was launched Thursday, only to pulled off the test Web site shortly thereafter because of installation problems. The company subsequently reposted it for download by Microsoft's technical beta testers over the weekend, testers said.

Whistler is the first release of Windows in which Microsoft is aiming to deliver a full range of flavors, from a 32-bit personal version to a 64-bit data-center version, all based on a common NT kernel.

The personal version of Whistler and some of the server versions are expected to ship before the end of 2001.

In recent weeks, Microsoft executives have dubbed Whistler the most significant Windows release since the company issued Windows 95. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates provided a sneak peek of Whistler during his Consumer Electronics Show keynote speech over the weekend and talked up the operating system's importance to the "always-on" PCs of the future.

A Microsoft spokeswoman declined to comment on build 2410, saying it was "too early to talk about features." She added that the company is on track to ship the official Beta 2 during the first quarter

Under the covers, Microsoft delivered the first beta of Whistler in late October. Beta 2 is expected sometime in February, according to sources. Build 2410 is the first Whistler beta that Microsoft has made widely available since Beta 1.

Several testers managed to grab the code using their existing Windows 2000 product installation keys and began dabbling with it over the weekend. "Yup, used my 2000 product key and it installed just fine. Pretty new icons, (Internet Explorer) 6.0, (Media Player) 8, pretty snazzy," one tester said.

IE 6.0 is expected to enter widespread beta testing in the next couple of months.

As reported on Windows enthusiast Web sites, including WinInfo and ActiveWin, Whistler 2410 includes a number of tweaks to the user interface.

Among the interface changes with Whistler build 2410 is the introduction by Microsoft of alpha-blending technology, according to one tester. Alpha blending is a visual effect for allowing icons to blend into the background of a screen. To enable this feature, driver makers will have to support Microsoft's new alpha blending format, however.

The most potentially controversial addition to build 2410, however, is anti-piracy code that Microsoft is calling "Microsoft Product Activation for Windows," according to testers. The technology is similar to the Office Activation Wizard that's part of Office 2000.

The anti-piracy code will tie a Windows product key to one specific PC to reduce casual copying. To "activate," a customer will send data about the installation, such as product ID number and hardware identifier, to a Microsoft-run license clearinghouse. The clearinghouse won't allow the use of the customer's product key on a PC different from the one originally activated.

Microsoft is expected to add similar anti-piracy technology to Office 10 and Visual Studio .Net, sources said.