Two Whistlers on the Way

NEW ORLEANS (04/26/2000) - Microsoft Corp. is finally merging its Windows 2000 and 9x lines with its upcoming "Whistler" operating system--but you'll still have a choice of Windows: Whistler will come in both business and consumer editions.

Microsoft executives are offering a few details about its next-generation operating system, due in 12 to 18 months, at the Windows Hardware Engineering conference (WinHEC) here this week.

Whistler will finally merge the existing Windows 9x and Windows 2000 (formerly Windows NT) lines, executives say. Microsoft has planned to merge its operating systems for some time, but now it's really going to happen, says Shawn Sanford, group product manager in the consumer Windows division. Windows 2000 made the difference, he says.

Windows 2000 is a mature technology, and it's more compatible with existing programs and hardware than Windows NT, he says. But a consumer OS typically must handle a wide variety of applications and devices. Windows 98 SE (and Windows ME) offer that flexibility, but they have less reliable source code than Windows 2000.

Moving the consumer OS to the same code as Windows 2000 should produce a more reliable and compatible OS overall, Sanford says.

While the business and consumer editions of Whistler will share basic source code, each will have features geared to appeal to their core users, Sanford says.

Merging the lines should also cut development costs, Sanford says. But Microsoft executives won't speculate on whether buyers will get some fiscal benefit. Nor will they say whether business and consumer editions will be priced differently.

Whistler Borrows From Windows ME

Now that Windows 2000 is shipping, Microsoft seems more willing to talk about its successor. Mike Coleman, product manager for the business and enterprise division, outlines a handful of specific areas where Whistler's business edition improves on Windows 2000.

It will be more reliable, incorporating some backup and fail-safe features being implemented in Windows ME. For example, it will include PC Health, an application that takes periodic "snapshots" of your system so you can roll back to an earlier configuration if you have problems. Another feature automatically keeps device drivers up-to-date.

Other business-oriented improvements include easier deployment, more attention to mobile users' needs, and better Internet integration, Coleman says.

Microsoft is tweaking the OS with productivity aids, such as wizards, custom menus, and a better control panel. Taskbar enhancements will help eliminate icon overpopulation. Coleman promises a "fresh look" to the user interface, too.

On the consumer side, Microsoft's revelations were a bit more vague, likely because Windows ME isn't shipping. But Chair Bill Gates gave a peek at Whistler in his keynote.

A PC running Whistler will come with a "proximity detector" that instantly "wakes" the PC when you sit in front of it, Gates says.

He also describes a digital dashboard for Whistler-based PCs that offers easy access to digital music files. Gates demonstrated the capability to access, select, and play digital music tracks on a PC even without launching the OS.

The consumer edition of Whistler will have a simpler interface to handle tasks more typical of home use, Sanford adds. For example, it may offer an easy way to eliminate passwords, set up home networks, and create personal desktop themes.

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