Details have leaked from beta testers and Microsoft regarding the next versions of Windows, code-named Millennium and Neptune.
Internal Microsoft documents show that the company has nearly completed the first internal builds of Neptune, the first version of Windows for consumers to be based on the Windows 2000 kernel, according to copies of the papers received by PC Week US.
Windows beta testers also reported being approached to test the follow-up to Windows 98, called Millennium, which will mark the end of the Windows 9x kernel.
Millennium will feature the same HTML interface as Neptune and comply with the EasyPC specification drawn up by Microsoft and Intel, which calls for a move from legacy ISA, parallel and serial ports to USB, IEEE 1394 "FireWire" and Device Bay ports for expansion (PC Week, 2 March and 13 April).
Paul Thurrott, editor of the WinInfo mailing list, told PC Week that Millennium "has to be compatible with what consumers are using now, while adding leading-edge capabilities such as EasyPC. Consumers need their hands held as we march into this new era of PC hardware, and Millennium is the operating system that will make this transition with them."
Once consumers have converted to EasyPC hardware, it will make it easier to move to the NT-based Neptune, as hardware compatibility will have been solved, he said.
"With Neptune, the issue of hardware compatibility is moot because it runs on a new hardware design that Microsoft can guarantee compatibility with," he said.
Because Neptune will be based on the NT kernel, Microsoft is encouraging its consumer and business divisions to share components between Neptune and future versions of Windows 2000, to be called Business Windows, such as the user interface, drivers and programming library files.
Thurrott saw this as an advantage to both Microsoft and its corporate customers: "Having a single user interface and as much shared code as possible will (also) speed the development of future operating systems."
Neptune will be the first Windows to support WinTone, Microsoft's plan to make the PC self-healing and self-updating by connecting to the Internet to check for updates. Microsoft hopes to release Millennium in 2000 and Neptune in April 2001, the documents said.
Neptune will include technology that enables automatic configuration of a PC's network stack and connection to Universal Plug and Play-enabled devices.
It will also incorporate a new, simpler Web-like user interface, eliminating Windows' typically cryptic error messages and improving support for hardware and applications, Microsoft documents said.
The common NT code base also means shared device drivers between the Microsoft consumer and business operating systems, which would make life easier for IT managers suporting both platforms.
Because Neptune will be based on the NT kernel, Microsoft plans to encourage its Consumer Windows division tand Business and Enterpize diviion rteams to share components, such as the user interface. So the new usability features developed for Neptune wil probably apear in future releases of Business Windows, as the company calls its post-Windows 2000 operating system.
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