Microsoft announced it had started shipping beta 3 of Windows 2000 on Thursday as expected, to more than 430,000 customers, 140,000 developers and 100,000 channel partners worldwide.
The release is a key phase in its efforts to bring the much delayed operating system (OS) to market.
Jim Allchin, senior vice president of Microsoft?s newly formed Business and Enterprise Division, said: "Hands on experience with the software is the best way for customers to evaluate Windows 2000 with their existing systems and help ensure the quality and deployability of the final release planned later this year."
Microsoft will charge customers $59.95 for its beta software and claims the number of testers for its beta programme is unprecedented.
But the beta is unprecedented in length as well as in scope. A first beta version of what was then called Windows NT 5.0 shipped in September 1997, and was followed a year later by a second one.
But Microsoft now claims this latest beta is feature complete, containing several improvements and additions to beta 2, mainly on the server side. For example, Windows 2000 Advanced Server now includes Windows Load Balancing Services, COM+, load balancing and support for rolling upgrades of server clusters.
The client version, Windows 2000 Professional beta 3, includes broader support for applications and devices and better power management.
Although there have been rumours of a tentative launch date in October, Microsoft executives maintain that no ship date has been set and the public reaction to beta 3 will be decisive in determining when the offering will appear. It repeated on Thursday, however, that it will ship before the end of the year.
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