Untangling Microsoft's Many Branches

SAN FRANCISCO (01/26/2000) - If you're confused about what operating system is going to spring forth from Microsoft Corp.'s loins and when, you're not alone.

With Microsoft changing names, delaying launch dates, and planning to change the underlying code for its operating systems, who can untangle the roots of its gnarled Windows family tree? Well, we can try.

Last December Microsoft made its first commitment to simplifying its product line when Jim Allchin was put in charge of all Windows development efforts.

This began the company's plans to streamline all of its operating systems and base them all on the NT kernel, says Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research area director of personal and distributed technologies.

"Microsoft's goal has to be to consolidate and simplify," he says. "They create the core technology running under it and maintain a consistent code base. They are trying to shift to NT-based technology and getting more of the market on the same code base, not on 9x. The less technology they need, the better."

But a new branch on the Windows tree will sprout February 17 when Windows 2000, the successor to Windows NT 4.0 and previously called NT 5.0, hits stores.

Confusing things further will be the launch of the third version of Windows 98, code-named Millennium, scheduled for release later this year.

In an attempt to consolidate the consumer and business branches of Windows, Microsoft wants to put the core NT kernel everywhere: in all of its consumer editions, as well as in CE, Gartenberg says.

In its efforts to put NT everywhere, the company was planning another operating system called Odyssey to be the future of Microsoft NT for business users.

Neptune, which Microsoft was planning to be the consumer version of Windows NT, is no longer in development.

Rather than two products -- Odyssey and Neptune -- a spokesperson confirms that a product called Whistler will be the first in the company's streamlined efforts.

Don't worry, a Microsoft spokesperson says, the company is still focusing on Millennium.

If Microsoft plans to shift all of its operating systems to the NT kernel, what will happen to 9x and CE? As far as Whistler goes, "developers haven't even looked at legacy issues. It's not something they're focusing on yet."

Expect to see a version of Whistler out in the next 12 to 18 months, says Gartenberg.

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