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Windows NT seeks new markets

Microsoft is expected to discuss its plans for moving its high-end operating system into other markets at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference.

Microsoft (MSFT) is expected to discuss its plans for moving its Windows NT technology into more mainstream markets at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Florida in March.

To date, Windows NT has been used almost exclusively as an industrial-strength operating system in high-end PCs, workstations, and servers.

As previously reported by CNET?S NEWS.COM, Microsoft will shift its focus and resources to Windows NT after the release of Windows 98. Microsoft's commitment to the future of Windows 98 has been questioned since last year's Comdex trade show, when Bill Gates glossed over the release of the update to Windows 95 in his keynote speech, focusing instead on the future of NT.

Since that time, "It's been fairly obvious that Windows 98 would migrate to a common kernel," said Windows analyst Dwight Davis of Summit Strategies. "That kernel is NT, " he added, referring to the core piece of code in an operating system.

This means Windows NT technology would be part of future operating systems used in mainstream markets such as consumer PCs.

The WinHEC hardware development conference, sponsored by Microsoft, will convene on March 25 in Orlando, Florida. At WinHEC, Microsoft details its technology goals to PC makers and peripheral equipment manufacturers.

Microsoft would not confirm that there would be a specific announcement about Windows NT for consumer markets at this year's WinHEC, but Phil Holden, product manager for Windows marketing group, did say that "We do give [PC manufacturers] enough guidance to know what machines to start building in a 2-3 year time frame."

Holden also said that Windows NT for consumers will be released within 2-3 years of the release of Windows 98, scheduled for the second half of this year.

Holden noted that Microsoft's announced its commitment to the Universal Serial Port (USB) at WinHEC two years ago. "Today, you're starting to see those machines shipped that will provide the support for USB."

Holden would not specify what Bill Gates would outline at WinHEC this year, saying that the conference "tends to not be product specific. It tends to be technology specific."