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New Windows Me expected in May

Microsoft's next consumer operating system, dubbed Windows Me, could debut as early as May 26, according to a new report.

Microsoft's next consumer operating system, dubbed Windows Me, could debut as early as May 26, according to a new report.

Windows Me--short for Windows Millennium Edition--is the final Microsoft operating system based on the company's Windows 9x line designed for home users. The launch is set for late May, according to Paul Thurrott, publisher of the WinInfo, a Windows user newsletter. International versions will ship to a variety of countries by early July, according to the report.

Previously referred to by its internal code-name Millennium, Microsoft announced last week that it would release the operating system under the new name. The software will be available at retail stores for PC users to purchase an upgrade and will be loaded on new consumer computers.

Microsoft declined to comment on the report. The company has not officially disclosed the ship date or exact feature set for the new consumer operating system.

"All we will say is Windows Me will be released sometime later this year," a Microsoft representative said.

Microsoft originally planned to stop producing operating systems based on its archaic DOS technology with Windows 98, which was released in June of 1998. Instead, due to delays in its other products and continuing demand from consumers as a result of the skyrocketing popularity of the Internet, the company extended the life of the product with Windows 98, Second Edition, and now Windows Me. After the release this year, the consumer operating systems will be based on the Windows NT code base, thought to be more stable and crash-resistant than Windows 9x.

Windows Me will in fact resemble Windows NT and Windows 2000, the new corporate operating system due from the company on Feb. 17, in terms of the look and feel of the user interface, according to WinInfo.

"Windows Me is a consumer-oriented product that will incorporate enhancements of customers that want to use a PC in their home, whereas Windows 2000 was developed for users in a business environment," according to a statement from the company.

In general, Windows Me is focused around four key areas, according to Microsoft: digital media and entertainment, the online experience, home networking and hardware compatibility and overall system reliability. In addition, the product will include a digital video editing application, Movie Maker, demonstrated by chairman Bill Gates at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month.

These four areas of focus reflect the changes in computer use since Windows 98 was introduced, Microsoft executives have said in the past. The changing styles have had a wide impact on the company and its products. Microsoft executives have always denied the speculation that Windows 98 was extended through Second Edition and now Me because of delays in readying the consumer version of Windows 2000. Instead, they assert that the interim releases were necessary because of the unprecedented popularity of consumer Internet technologies like digital music and digital media, along with the company's push toward home networking.

Windows Me is still being beta tested, Microsoft said. The company released the second beta, or trial version of the operating system, to testers in late November. At least one more version, which will include the digital video editing software, will be released to testers before the final product ships.

"We will do as many betas as needed," a source said today, declining to specify how many test version are usually required or how long a typical beta test period generally takes. "It's just too early to say right now."

The beta tester site ActiveWin reports that the third beta version is due out in March, with the final software code released to CD-ROM and PC manufacturers by May.

After its possible debut in the United States and Latin America on May 26, Windows Me will begin shipping internationally, according to WinInfo. The software will be released in Germany and Spain on June 9, France and Italy on June 16, and Brazil, Holland and Sweden on June 20. The Japanese version of Windows Me will be released on June 25, followed by the Danish version on July 5, according to WinInfo. Additional Asian editions will ship throughout July, according to the newsletter.

After Windows Me, Microsoft will work on the development of the consumer version of Windows 2000, code-named Whistler, according to the company.