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Microsoft releases Windows 2000 to manufacturers

After months of delays, the software giant sends the operating system to manufacturers and says it's on target to meet its scheduled ship date of Feb. 17.

After months of delays, Microsoft has released its Windows 2000 operating system to manufacturers and is on target to meet its scheduled ship date of Feb. 17, the company said today.

The software giant has finally completed writing, testing and revising the code for the operating system, widely thought to be the most important software development project in the company's history. Windows 2000 will also be the centerpiece of Microsoft's overall strategy going forward, designed to power, enhance and augment all of the company's other software and Internet offerings.

Releasing the code to manufacturers is one of the last milestones before the official release of any software. After shipping the code to PC makers to install on outgoing computers and to CD-ROM manufacturers for retail sales, there is typically a delay of six to eight weeks before the software is available for purchase. Microsoft has previously announced that the formal release date for Windows 2000 is Feb. 17.

"Today marks an important milestone for Microsoft, the industry and our customers," said Jim Allchin, group vice president of the Windows division, in a conference call. "It's been a three-and-a-half-year journey."

Windows 2000 is the largest development project in the company's history. Although figures are not available on the years-long development project, Microsoft spent $160 million on reliability testing alone, executives said today.

"We're into a billion, would be my guess," said Allchin.

Despite its dominance in the desktop operating system market and the gargantuan development project now behind it, Microsoft still faces somewhat of an uphill battle in marketing Windows 2000, especially in the face of renewed efforts from established high-end Unix products and new competition from Linux-based products.

To get the news out, Microsoft said yesterday it is launching a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign to highlight Windows 2000 and related software used to build e-commerce sites.

Responding to complaints about the delays, Allchin said Windows 2000 was not shipped until it was ready. That statement summed up the theme of Microsoft executives today as they defended the company against widespread industry jokes and speculation surrounding the constant missed deadlines that have beset Windows 2000 product development.

"We always said we would not ship until it's ready," said Brian Valentine, senior vice president of the Windows Division. "Today we believe it's ready."

Valentine noted that most of Microsoft's internal computers now are running on Windows 2000.

"It took us a while to get here, but that's because we were not ready to compromise," Valentine said, promising that the first version of the operating system will not need service packs or bug fixes like other software releases.

"Windows 2000 is by far the fastest Windows operating system ever," he added, boasting that benchmark tests indicate that Windows 2000 Server outperforms comparable operating systems.

Unlike previous operating systems from the company, including Windows NT, Windows 95 and Windows 98, Windows 2000 is designed to offer the necessary security, reliability and manageability to allow companies to run e-commerce Web sites, for example, the company said. Windows 2000 will be available in four versions: Windows 2000 Professional, for desktop users; Windows 2000 Server; Windows 2000 Advanced Server; and Windows 2000 Data Server, which will not be available on Feb. 17.

In addition to back-end enhancements, Windows 2000 also offers support for popular client-side technologies, bringing Microsoft up to date with advances in peripheral connection technologies, Internet connection advancements and support for notebook computers.

For example, Windows 2000 is the first Windows NT-based operating system to offer support for USB and IEEE peripherals, two technologies that significantly simplify connection of peripherals to PCs.

Microsoft today also announced new companies that have been running their organizations on Windows 2000, including the Phoenix Suns basketball team, Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team, and Wells Fargo.

"Windows 2000 has already had a positive impact on [these firms'] bottom line," said Deborah Willingham, vice president of the business enterprise division. "This is so much more than just a Microsoft event--it reflects the industry working together."

Although Windows 2000 is specifically designed for business use, Allchin confirmed that eventually all Microsoft desktop operating systems will be based on the Windows 2000 code. The next consumer operating system, code-named Millennium, is based on Windows 98 code, he said.