NEW ORLEANS--A second beta of Microsoft's mammoth upgrade to its Windows NT operating system will be delivered to test sites by mid-July, according to several prominent customers at the company's TechEd developer conference here.
Windows NT 5.0 is a client-server operating system targeted at corporate America and is one of the most anticipated software upgrades in Microsoft's history. The software is expected to drive revenue for the firm well into the next century and eventually will become the common base for all operating systems in the company's portfolio, including future consumer Windows releases.
The second beta is expected to be the last full-fledged test offering before the release of NT 5.0 server and workstation, taking into account the possibility of subsequent "Service Pack" updates and patches before final shipment, according to Jeff Price, a product manager within Microsoft's NT server group.
Executive vice president Steve Ballmer hyped the forthcoming release as a "cost of ownership" operating system upgrade during his opening keynote this week at TechEd, touting the benefits of forthcoming directory services, management, security, and mirroring enhancements.
Those features will figure prominently in the second beta. "There will be major functionality differences between beta one and beta two and people can put it in their test environments," Price said.
The initial NT 5.0 beta included infrastructure components of the operating system, or "plumbing," so that programmers could begin to write applications that will run on top of the upgrade once it is released. The second beta adds the tools that the user or administrator will use to manipulate the software, according to Price.
Included among the features will be new so-called "IntelliMirror" functions that essentially will allow a user's desktop to be replicated to a server system for centralized management.
Also, a fully functioning Active Directory services package will be included so that corporations can begin to test the next-generation software, viewed as a key component in Microsoft's effort to make NT palatable for corporate rollouts.
Active Directory is the first Microsoft service that allows administration of users across multiple departments; NT 4.0 includes an oft-criticized "domain" scheme that makes it difficult for centralized management functions to be replicated across a network of systems.
As part of the company's Microsoft Management Console (MMC) thrust, beta two will include a wider array of plug-in software for NT services, such as routing and remote access, IP security, and quality of service. The MMC provides a framework for third parties to snap-in management tools that are displayed on a single console.
The second beta will also include Microsoft Installer, a service previously code-named Darwin that will serve as the common method for adding Microsoft applications such as Office or the BackOffice components to a system.
Windows NT sales have accelerated past sales of other server operating systems from Novell and IBM and outsold all variants of Unix in 1997, according to market researcher International Data Corporation. Those numbers do not account for the wide use of Linux, a free derivative of Unix that is disseminated widely across the Net.
Various industry pundits--from analysts to wary competitors--insist that the massive undertaking to upgrade Windows NT is unlikely to result in a finished product in the time-frame the company has set for itself, sparking common cries of "vaporware" in advance of massive Microsoft releases.
The company has never given a firm date for the final release of the Windows NT 5.0 upgrade, though comments from various executives have indicated that the delivery window has slipped from the end of this year to early next year. Some Microsoft observers don't expect the massive operating system overhaul to show its face in completed form until June of 1999 at the earliest.
However, whereas the final shipment date could remain fuzzy for some time--even within planet Microsoft--a date for a second beta release will allow more NT-focused information technology professionals to make plans to install the software in test environments.
"I know the development team is still on a plan to deliver it in the first half of the year," said Price, refusing to confirm a final delivery date for the beta. "That's what we're pushing for."