Microsoft has shown its testers a preview version of a new interface for Whistler, its next major Windows operating system, which replaces the familiar Start menu with a web-based interface.
Options called Start Menu and Start Page replace the Windows 98 Start Menu and Active Desktop in an effort to provide a friendlier front end to the program and services accessible with a PC.
Start Panel, which can be configured from Whistler's Start and Taskbar Properties dialog box, is hidden in the Whistler Preview given to testers, but was easily enabled by developers who then posted screenshots on community sites, such as betanews and wininformant.
The Start Panel is about twice the size of current the Start Menu and features two columns of options, one of which features large icons for Internet Explorer and the most recently accessed applications. The second column, My Places, features links for common system locations and utilities including personal document folders, control panels and network options.
The Start Page consolidates frequently used programs, documents and other files within a desktop backdrop.
Still incomplete, the Start Page desktop will enable PC manufacturers to brand a computer and each user to have their own photo when logged on.
Like many of Whistler's user interface enhancements, the Start Panel and Start Page use Dynamic HTML (DHTML) instead of the standard graphical user interface found in earlier versions of Windows. Whistler is also likely to contain a simplified, DHTML-based Control Panel, and, in its Server editions, an Administrative Tools Home Page that provides a Start Page-like front end to the system's management tools.
John Collins, senior analyst at Bloor Research, said: "This is a makeover not a new interface. The basic user interface hasn't changed very much and I think a lot more can be done."
The Start Page and Start Panel could be dropped before final release, but they do demonstrate Microsoft's shift to an internet-based operating system.
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