Beta 2 is designed to be the last test version before the final code is released later this year. Talisker and previous versions of Windows CE are similar to Microsoft's Windows operating system for PCs but are for use in other devices, such as handheld computers and factory automation equipment. The company released the first test version in April.
The company is also announcing two new programs aimed at spurring development of set-top boxes, Internet appliances and other devices using the operating system whose code name is a type of single-malt Scotch whisky distilled on Scotland's Isle of Skye.
First, the company is making the new beta version available to anyone who wants to pay the shipping and handling to get the software on a disc. Second, the company has created a free, downloadable emulator that allows some of the preliminary development work needed to create a Talisker-based device to be done on a Windows 2000 or Windows XP workstation.
Without using an emulator, developers would need to create the hardware they planned to use in order to start testing.
"There is time and cost involved," Microsoft product manager Megan Kidd said. "This is enabling developers to bypass that."
The new version of Talisker is also the first to be made broadly available. The first beta version was made available to only about 200 testers.
"We really want to open it up and make it accessible to everybody," Kidd said.
Kidd said Microsoft has been working with several other companies in a rapid development program aimed at ensuring that the first Talisker devices come out as soon as early next year.
Among the companies taking part in that program are Siemens, which is creating a Talisker-based Web-browsing tablet, and Wyse, which is using the new software to build a so-called thin client, a desktop machine that runs Windows-based programs from a network rather than from a local hard drive.
The new version of Talisker includes a number of new features, including the ability to roam from one wireless network to another without having to manually reconfigure the network settings.
That ability would allow a worker with a handheld computer to access the Internet using a corporate network while at the office and then automatically switch networks when going, for example, to a Starbucks across the street, Kidd said.
Microsoft has also simplified the process of choosing which components of Talisker are needed for a particular device, creating templates for the various types of products in which the operating system is likely to be used.
The company also added language support for Chinese and Korean, improved handling of instant messaging and other real-time communications, and added support for Internet Explorer 5.5, MS XML 3.0 and DirectX8..