Microsoft has released the first beta of the next edition of Windows 2000.
The software, code-named "Whistler," is the first operating system from Microsoft that combines its Windows 2000 code base and its 9.x code base, which includes Windows 95, 98 and ME. It is also the first Microsoft OS with a 64-bit version. Microsoft expects to ship the software in the second half of 2001.
Microsoft sent the beta to 200,000 testers, including partners, customers, and independent hardware and software developers. A preview version of the software has been available to a smaller group of testers since July.
The release is a minor upgrade for enterprises using or planning to use Windows 2000 Server, but represents a major upgrade for users of the 9.x desktop operating system. Those users will get all the reliability built into Windows 2000, while retaining the multimedia and digital media features found in the recently released Windows ME.
"This is the convergence product. It brings the two code bases together," says Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Giga Information Group Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. "This is probably the product that users have been waiting for since '95, in terms of a more reliable system."
On the server side, Whistler is focused on pushing the performance, scalability, reliability and manageability Microsoft is touting with Windows 2000. One of the keys is the 64-bit version, which in theory should perform twice as fast as the 32-bit operating system.
Another major improvement is "headless" management, which supports remote management without having system requirements for a keyboard and a mouse.
"The feature is great for enterprises that have servers in remote locations," says Mark Perry, directory of Windows 2000 marketing at Microsoft. "You can do anything from shut down to boot up of the system."
Perry said Whistler also will provide enterprises with tools and wizards and other resources, such as configuration guides, that will make Whistler easier and faster to deploy. He said a larger number of signed drivers will be available than with Windows 2000, and there would be greater "hard checking" of Dynamic Link Libraries (DLL), small pieces of code that are used by applications. DLLs have been a recurring sore spot for users of Microsoft operating systems.
What won't be obviously evident in Whistler is Microsoft's switch to its .Net strategy, a Windows platform for the Internet where software can be deployed as services.
Perry said the software would contain some .Net technology and services but would not offer specifics.
Giga's Enderle said the big step for .Net is the follow-on release to Whistler. That release, code-named Blackcomb, is expected to ship in 2002.
Whistler will ship in Server, Advanced Server and DataCenter versions, just like Windows 2000. The desktop version will come in two flavors, business and consumer. The business version is expected to support a dual-processor machine, while the consumer version will support a single processor.
Microsoft did not disclose system requirements or pricing.