Microsoft on Wednesday confirmed that Windows 98 is due for at least two more upgrades before a new consumer operating system, based on Windows NT, makes its debut some time after 2000.
Until recently, Microsoft had maintained that Windows 98 was to be the last in the Windows 9x line and that it would be succeeded by a consumer version of Windows NT. But in March, Microsoft said it would ship an update to Windows 98, dubbed Windows 98 Second Edition, this Autumn.
This may cause controversy however, as Microsoft originally implied that the upgrade would come for free, along the lines of a software patch. It is now expected to cost $89 in the US - the same as it cost to upgrade from Windows 95 to Windows 98.
Windows 98 Second Edition will offer only modest improvements over the current shipping version of the operating system. It will include Internet Explorer 5.0, the latest version of Microsoft?s browser. Other new features will include support for Device Bay, Internet Connection Sharing, cable modems and Digital Subscriber Line (DSL).
In 2000, Microsoft will ship an as yet unnamed new release of the operating system. Windows 2000 for consumers will be based on the Windows 98 code base, Microsoft president Steve Ballmer revealed on Wednesday.
?Consumer Windows in 2000,? as the operating system is being referred to, will include Universal Plug and Play (UPnP), Microsoft?s technology for connecting appliances to PCs in the home. Consumer Windows in 2000 will also feature support for a broader range of media types, faster boot time and better power management.
Microsoft executives at WinHEC explained that compatibility concerns were the main cause for Windows 9x?s reprieve. Games developers, in particular, were worried that an NT based operating system would not be able to run their software reliably.
But another reason appears to be a change in priorities at Microsoft. The company is now focused on simplicity rather than new features, concentrating on making its consumer operating system easier to install, use and maintain. A drive that is condensed into the ubiquitous catch phrase at WinHEC 99: 'It Just Works'.
?Let?s have the discipline to balance feature innovation with making it ?Just Work??, David Cole, vice president of Microsoft?s newly formed Consumer Windows division, exhorted the audience of PC and peripherals makers.
On the first day of WinHEC, Microsoft demonstrated some software to help make PCs ?just work?. First up, a set of utilities currently under development called PC Health, which automatically diagnose and fix certain hardware and software problems.
Another new utility, called Windows Game Manager, will automatically install and configure computer games when a game CD is inserted. Game Manager is likely to ship with Consumer Windows in 2000.
Cole argued that the decision to continue the Windows 9x product line, rather than switch to NT, would not impact users.
?Of all the consumers we?ve talked to, not one of them cares about the kernel,? argued Cole.
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