As it prepares for the release of its corporate-use Windows 2000, arguably the company's most ambitious operating system to date, Microsoft appears to be making another attempt to get its consumer strategy in order.
Until recently, Microsoft planned to introduce in 2001 a consumer version of Windows code-named "Neptune." That initiative has been combined with another, vaguer, project known as "Odyssey," and the combined development effort will be known by the code-name "Whistler," Microsoft said today.
The move is the latest revision of Microsoft's long-term strategy for its consumer operating system business.
Originally, Windows 98 was to be the last DOS-based operating system for home users to come from the Redmond, Washington, software maker. But a combination of product delays and market shifts led the company to push back the planned transition to its Windows NT code base. (Windows NT is the precursor to Windows 2000.) Instead it released Windows 98 Second Edition in 1999 and has a third version of Windows 98, code-named Millennium, in the pipeline for release later this year.
Following the release of Millennium, Microsoft intends to base future versions of Windows, both for consumer and corporate users, on Windows NT. To date, corporate versions of Windows have been NT-based, while consumer releases have been based on DOS.
Neptune had been the company's latest attempt at a Windows NT-based consumer OS, after it decided to extend the Windows 98 family through two more product cycles. A company representative described Odyssey only as another "future NT-based operating system."
"The two products and the two efforts were combined in order to streamline the overall Windows development," the representative said. "There will be a single product release called Whistler, following Millennium."
Microsoft executives were not available for further comment. The company typically does not comment on the feature sets of upcoming products until later in the development cycle.
The motivation and implications of the move are not altogether unclear.
Last December, Microsoft reorganized to make Jim Allchin head of all Windows development, including consumer, corporate, and Windows CE, which is Microsoft's operating system for non-desktop devices and "embedded" systems. The shift reflected the company's goal of creating a comprehensive framework of client software and Internet services for PCs and other devices to connect back to server computers running the more powerful Windows 2000 software. A little over one month later, however, Microsoft founder Bill Gates has stepped aside as CEO for Steve Ballmer.
Whistler had been the code-name of a speech to text translator project, according to Paul Thurrott's SuperSite for Windows, a Microsoft user Web site. Those capabilities may be integrated into the operating system, according to the site.
Windows 2000, which began shipping on PCs today, will be officially released at an industry event in San Francisco on February 17. Millennium is due out in the second half of 2000.