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PC makers get test copy of Windows 98 update

Microsoft delivers a preliminary version of its upcoming consumer operating system to a select group of testers, bringing the company one step closer to a second Windows 98 update.

Microsoft has delivered a preliminary version of its upcoming consumer operating system to a select group of testers, bringing the company one step closer to a second update to Windows 98.

Microsoft confirmed it has delivered an early version of Millennium, the code name for its next consumer operating system, based on the Windows 98 OS.

Expected for release in 2000, Millennium will be the company's third consumer operating system in as many years, a situation which could engender confusion among potential customers.

Millennium will be the first operating system released under the Easy PC initiative, a joint project between Microsoft and Intel aimed at simplifying the computing experience, in part by dropping support for older technologies.

Because it is early in the testing process, Microsoft is relatively tight-lipped about the features of the new software, confirming only that Millennium will enhance digital imaging and music, home networking, and Internet support. Microsoft delivered what it terms a "developer's release," to select individual users, PC makers, and software developers for testing, according to product manager Shawn Sanford.

"It's a pretty standard process to release early code to OEMs [Original Equipment Manufacturers], and software and hardware partners, and incorporate the feedback into the operating system," he said, explaining that such a release usually pre-dates a broader public beta testing period. "Depending upon the feedback, if there's a lot of changes in the OS we could do another possible release for partners alone, but usually it goes into broader testing at that point."

Millennium will support new hardware configurations in PCs shipping next year, Sanford said, specifically new connection technologies like USB and IEEE 1394. These connections, which are designed to simplify the process of attaching peripherals to the PC, will replace older, "legacy," connections on upcoming computers and the software written to run on them.

"We're looking at what we need to do in the OS to support new hardware scenarios," Sanford said.

Windows 2000 waits in the wings
When released, Millennium will be the second revision to Windows 98. The first, Windows 98 Second Edition, was released earlier this summer. Initially, Microsoft said it would follow Windows 98 with a consumer version of Windows 2000, its corporate operating system which is widely thought to be more stable than Windows 98. Windows 2000, formerly known as Windows NT, is due out later this year.

Despite ongoing rumors that Millennium will indeed integrate aspects of Windows 2000, Sanford says the consumer release will be based solely on Windows 98. Some of the confusion may have been caused by Microsoft's early name for the release: Consumer Windows in 2000.

Neptune will be the first consumer operating system based on Windows 2000, a company spokesperson said earlier this month. It will not be released until 2001, at the earliest.

"We're focused on delivering the greatest amount of benefit in the next consumer OS," he said. "Our focus is bringing the simplest home computing experience. After that, we'll evaluate the process."