ANAHEIM, Calif.--Microsoft on Monday announced the second test
version of its Windows XP operating system and the first version that shows
off the new look and feel of the software.
Beta 2, which Microsoft said will be given to roughly 500,000 testers, adds
a brighter interface with more graphics and colors as well as built-in
support to simplify tasks such as online photo printing and managing music
Microsoft is developing three flavors of Windows XP--one for home computers,
another for most business uses and a third aimed
at machines running Intel's 64-bit Itanium family of chips. All three
versions of Windows XP are due in the second half of this year and are built
on the same NT core found in Microsoft's business-oriented Windows 2000.
The chief task for the software giant is to take the stability of Windows
2000 and create an interface that makes it easier to use than its current
consumer offering, Windows Me.
"The whole challenge with Windows XP is to provide that power but make sure
it's simple," said Microsoft lead product manager Greg Sullivan.
Microsoft showed off the new
look of the operating system at an event last month at its Redmond, Wash.,
headquarters to announce the XP name. Sullivan said Beta 2 is the first time
people outside Microsoft will be able to try out the new interface. The new
software will be made available to members of Microsoft's developer network
and the industry group TechNet, along with Microsoft's stable of internal
and external testers.
The new software includes the first public beta version of Internet Explorer
6 as well as built-in integrated instant messaging and Windows Media Player.
One of the most notable changes is the "Start" menu in Windows XP. Instead
of coming up with a list of nearly every program on the hard drive, the new
menu offers basics such as a Web browser and e-mail program as well as the
names of five or six of the most-used programs. A full list is available
with the click of a button.
In many ways, Microsoft's effort parallels Apple's task with the Mac OS X
operating system it introduced
last week. The OS X is a ground-up rewrite of the Mac OS taking a Unix core
but adding a simpler user interface and new graphics technology.
However, Sullivan couldn't resist a few digs, noting that for years Windows
has included some of the features that Apple has
touted with OS X, such as pre-emptive multitasking and protected memory.
In many ways, though, Microsoft and Apple are both trying to do the same
thing--re-assert the importance of the home computer in a world where many
people own a number of digital devices. Both companies are trying to make
their products a hub for other gadgets, particularly those that deal with
digital pictures and music.
With Windows XP, Microsoft has automated a number of common tasks dealing
with add-ons such as digital cameras and CD burners. For example, users can
click on a photo and have the option of e-mailing the full file or a
compressed version, posting the photo online, printing it or getting copies
from an online photofinisher.
Microsoft has also tried to further integrate rewritable CD-drives, making
them appear like any other drive, with the ability to drag and drop files
onto a CD and then burn it at a later date.
"We want to take stuff that was possible before and make it effortless,"
Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Insight 64, said today's release is
basically a good sign.
"It's a couple of weeks late but basically on track," Brookwood said.
Microsoft was said by testers to have wanted to introduce Beta 2 last month,
but the project fell behind
The big selling point, Brookwood said, will be stability.
"If it doesn't crash, that's worth something to lots of people," he said.
But Brookwood said that changing the look of Windows will help consumers
understand that this is a bigger deal than recent transitions, such as the
move from Windows 95 to Windows 98 and from Windows 98 to Windows Me.