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Memphis beta testing next week

Microsoft is ready to send the successor to Windows 95 to 10,000 testers.

REDMOND, Washington--The Windows 95 successor, an upgrade code-named Memphis, will enter its first full-scale beta program next week, Microsoft officials said yesterday during a conference here.

Memphis is also commonly referred to as "Windows 97," although it is unlikely to hit the streets before 1998. Microsoft officials yesterday steadfastly refused to commit to a ship date.

Microsoft has been circulating Memphis, which will use Internet Explorer 4.0 as its main interface, for several months among developers. Next week, the company will ship a "close to feature complete" version to about 10,000 test sites, according to Adam Taylor, group product manager for the personal and business systems division.

The company ended the conference about Internet Explorer 4.0 yesterday by demonstrating some of the features that will differentiate Memphis from Windows 95.

The spotlight was on the upgrade's broadcast architecture, an attempt to integrate a television tuner into the operating system. A trio of Microsoft engineers showed how Memphis can tune in both digital and analog video from satellite, cable, and regular television transmissions.

As reported in May by CNET's NEWS.COM, Memphis will also organize the program schedules from various broadcast sources into a TV programming list similar to a cable system's preview channel.

Because the Memphis TV "screen" is actually an HTML page with an ActiveX video control, the user--or viewer--will be able to browse through related data, games, and even participate in online chat sessions as they watch a TV show.

Windows NT 5.0, an upgrade of the company's high-end operating system, will also include the TV-tuner broadcast technology developed for Memphis, according to Windows product manager Phil Holden. NT 5.0 is expected to ship next year.

Microsoft also showed off new implementations of more familiar operating system features. The company demonstrated the Memphis "help desk" feature, a package of utilities that lets users update system software, scan for viruses and corrupt files, and automatically clean out browser cache files.

To make system upgrades easier, Memphis will maintain a small database of system information on a user's hard drive. When the user connects to an "Upgrade Manager" Web site, the Web site will compare the Memphis database to the latest available system software. If the Memphis software is out of date, the Web site will automatically upgrade it.

"We will automatically slurp up the relevant information from your system," said Windows platform general manager Bill Veghte.

Users have criticized Microsoft in the past for using its operating system to collect information about users' desktops--information that critics say the company used for marketing. But officials stressed yesterday that the Upgrade Manager feature won't work without the user's permission.

Microsoft will also tweak Memphis' network architecture to make Internet connections faster. For example, Memphis will add support for 10-digit numbers and an auto-reconnect feature that will reestablish a connection if the computer drops off the Internet.

Memphis will also provide new networking options such as letting users connected to a LAN simultaneously connect to the Net over a dialup connection. Memphis will also add support for virtual private networks and will handle data packets better for high-bandwidth users, according to Veghte.

Memphis won't completely deliver on at least one feature, however, that developers have been expecting. The company had said previously that it would merge the collections of hardware drivers for Memphis and for Windows NT. This would mean that hardware developers would only have to create drivers--or software that links a PC to a peripheral such as a printer--for a single operating system instead of two.

Veghte admitted that Microsoft will not create a single video display driver for Memphis and NT, although it still plans to merge other sets of drivers for audio, still image, scanning, the universal serial bus, and video capture.

The company will spend at least another year to combine the two sets of device drivers. Microsoft expects to continue to work on the merger past the releases of both Memphis and NT 5.0, according to Holden.

Microsoft still plans to bring Windows 95 and NT closer together. The single device driver initiative is one aspect of those plans, as is the plan to bring the Active Desktop to Windows NT 5.0.

Other Memphis features include:

  • The Active Desktop to put information "push" channels on the desktop. Memphis will ship with 10 to 20 default channels, according to Holden, but users will also be able to subscribe to other channels.
  • Plug and play connections for peripheral devices that use the new universal serial bus connection.
  • The ability called "OnNow" to boot up the computer within seconds.
  • Support for multiple monitors.