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NT release delayed--again

Microsoft executives say a second beta of the Windows NT operating system will not make it out the door in the first half of this year.

The release schedule for Microsoft's anticipated Windows NT operating system upgrade seems as murky as ever.

Microsoft executives said today a second beta version of NT will not make it out the door in the first half of this year, opening up all sorts of scenarios that could result in delivery of a final version of NT 5.0 even later than the first half of 1999.

The Windows NT 5.0 Workstation and Server operating system represents a significant internal investment for Microsoft and is widely viewed as one of the most important product introductions in the company's history. The software is targeted at the corporate world, a market that strays far from the giant's consumer roots, and is expected to drive growth for the firm for several years.

Microsoft executives now say delivery of a second beta version is likely sometime this summer, but not by the first half deadline previously articulated by the firm. "We're going milestone to milestone," said Mike Nash, director of marketing for Windows NT Server and infrastructure products.

Original company estimates from 1996 pegged delivery of the operating system sometime late last year. That ended up being the timing for delivery of the initial beta version to customers. Those initially rosy predictions for the final release of NT 5.0 have since seeped into this year and finally into next year in recent months.

Several prominent Windows NT Workstation and Server beta sites said last month that they were informed that beta 2 would arrive sometime in July. To satisfy that expectation, Microsoft is releasing a post-beta 1 build of the operating system this week to attendees of an NT-focused conference in San Jose, California.

Before a software product is released, it goes through test cycles, known as betas. These trial runs give software companies the opportunity to see how well their code is working and allows third-party customers to "kick the tires" and offer feedback to the company before final release. For large upgrades, betas are sometimes augmented with so-called interim builds as new functions are added.

First indications that Microsoft would not meet its latest deadline for delivery of beta 2 came during this spring's Networld+Interop industry trade show, where Microsoft senior vice president for its personal and business systems division Jim Allchin hedged when discussing time tables for the second test version.

The revised Microsoft schedule includes the interim build being released to about 2,500 attendees at the San Jose conference. That limited release will be followed by a full-fledged second beta of NT 5.0 later this summer to about 100,000 customers. A third beta has been added to the release schedule, though Microsoft executives compared it to an interim build.

The third beta, or interim build, will be offered as an open release, which means interested users need only to sign up for it.

Once delivered, beta 2 will be "feature complete, for all intents and purposes," according to Nash.

That means anticipated functions such as a full-fledged Active Directory service implementation will be included, along with desktop-to-server mirroring capabilities dubbed "IntelliMirror," power management features, and initial rollout of the integrated version of NT's Terminal Server Edition. This will act as a service within the base operating system in its second incarnation, he added. Currently, a separate version of NT is offered that supports delivery of Windows-based client applications from a central NT system.

"We'd hoped to have beta 2 out in the first half, but we didn't make it," Nash said. "It's a beta, so there's a few things that won't be totally done."

He declined to give a timetable for final delivery of NT 5.0.