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Test version of Windows 2000 due

Some 1,000 sites and 16,000 beta testers will receive a new trial version of what was formerly known as Windows NT 5.0.

The vaporware clouds may be clearing in Redmond.

About 1,000 sites and 16,000 participants in Microsoft's Windows 2000 testing program will soon receive a new trial version of the company's workstation and server operating system, formerly known as Windows NT 5.0.

But it's not quite the final edition of the third beta version--due in the first quarter of next year--but rather a potential version of the third beta. The condition underscores the scrutiny now focused on the software giant's Windows 2000 efforts, given a slew of delays in delivery of its corporate-use operating system.

"We have arrived at a build we believe is 100 percent feature-complete and reliable," said Jonathan Perera, lead product manager for Microsoft's Windows NT Server.

Known to software developers as a "release candidate," the forthcoming version of Windows 2000 is essentially the precursor to a formal beta release, used to elicit feedback concerning stability and performance.

The candidate will be tested largely by third-party hardware and software vendors and licensees to make sure the Windows 2000 operating system works with other software and systems. Responses will be key, since a good portion of its nearly 40 million lines of code are new.

Windows 2000, in both workstation and server versions, is viewed as a significant upgrade for Microsoft since it includes several new or improved elements that may make it more palatable for more widespread corporate use. Though final release dates remain unclear, most observers expect the operating system to ship in the second half of next year.