In April, Microsoft released Windows 2000 (Win2K) beta 3, which was the first feature-complete release of Win2K. Nearly 500,000 users received Win2K beta 3 through a variety of channels, including the Win2K beta program, the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN), the corporate preview program (for $60, a company can deploy two Win2K Server systems and five Win2K Professional—Win2K Pro—workstations), and hardware vendors that shipped the software on PCs, notebooks, and servers. Microsoft also sent channel-readiness kits containing Win2K Server beta 3 and Win2K Pro beta 3 to nearly 100,000 resellers.

Microsoft created a Web site for Win2K beta 3, and for the first time, the company is offering phone support for a beta. Microsoft's Training & Certification group also announced a $40 million program to train 150,000 developers, resellers, and IT professionals worldwide on how to deploy and maintain Win2K systems.

In mid-March, industry press began to run announcements of Microsoft's October 6 goal to release Win2K Pro, Win2K Server (for up to two processors), and Win2K Advanced Server (Win2K AS—for up to four processors). These stories based Win2K's release date on an internal Microsoft memo from Win2K project leaders congratulating the Win2K team for its efforts. The memo also laid out several of the interim milestones to reach the October release goal. Microsoft said dates might slip based on the feedback from beta 3 testing that began in April. Early on, Win2K beta 3 looked pretty solid, and in July, Microsoft shipped Win2K Release Candidate 1 (RC1). So, Win2K might be in evidence at Comdex/Fall '99.

Microsoft's recent replacement of Win2K team leader Moshe Dunie, former vice president of Windows OSs, with Brian Valentine, vice president of Windows development and former Exchange Server 5.0 project leader, created uncertainty among industry analysts that Microsoft would meet Win2K's release goal. Hoping to inspire the Win2K team, Microsoft President Steve Ballmer sent a memo to the development team to reaffirm that Win2K is the only important Microsoft product introduction this year.

Rather than comment on Win2K's elusive release date, Jim Allchin, senior vice president of the Microsoft Business and Enterprise Division and Consumer Windows Division, emphasized Win2K's stability and the small number of situations that require a reboot. Whereas Windows NT 4.0 re- quired rebooting in 75 cases, Win2K requires a reboot in only 5 cases. Allchin said, "We've been very hard core about reliability. Our results are dramatic."

Win2K has between 40 million and 60 million lines of code from as many as 2000 contributing developers. Win2K is undoubtedly the most complex software-development project that Microsoft has attempted. Microsoft is working with 24 business partners to deliver aspects of the feature set, and the partners often work with other partners behind the scenes. Many hands are stirring the development pot, and the size of the Win2K effort has played a role in the delay of Win2K's release.

In the meantime, Windows 9x will live on. Industry analysts speculate that Dunie left Microsoft because he disagreed with the company's decision to rebuild a team to create a Win98 OEM Service Release (OSR). Win98 Second Edition (Win98SE) will appear this fall in retail stores. Win98SE will contain new features in the area of digital media, an Internet Connection Sharing feature, a DUN 1.3 update, DirectX 6.1, and home networking based on a Universal PnP standard under development. Also included are Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 5.0, security enhancements, and Year 2000 (Y2K) fixes. Microsoft has said it won't guarantee Win95's Y2K compliance, so several large companies are upgrading to Win98. For example, EDS is upgrading 100,000 desktops to ensure Y2K compliance.

Microsoft has begun to demonstrate the Win2K enterprise product features at recent conferences. Win2K Datacenter Server (Datacenter) provides up to 16 processors in an SMP system and supports 4-node failover clustering. Microsoft still expects to release Datacenter within 3 to 4 months after the initial Win2K release. So, Datacenter might appear in the February 2000 time frame. Because Y2K might delay many enterprise-class application installations, a February 2000 release date makes sense.

In April at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), Microsoft revealed plans for several other OS releases. At WinHEC, Microsoft showed the next revision of Windows CE (code-named Cedar), NT 4.0 Embedded running a Windows server appliance, and a 64-bit Win2K version running SQL Server 7.0. Ballmer showed a Windows server appliance, which provided Internet access, file and print support, simplified setup and administration, and embedded NT. Microsoft will aim this appliance at small businesses at a cost of $2000.

Microsoft announced two other initiatives at WinHEC. For the Easy PC Initiative, Microsoft, Intel, Compaq, IBM, HP, Toshiba, and Gateway pledged to eliminate the ISA and PS/2-style buses and other legacy ports, remove MS-DOS from view, employ IEEE 1394 (FireWire), and utilize the Universal Serial Bus (USB) and Device Bay. OS improvements based on this initiative to make PCs easier to use will appear in Win98SE. With a second initiative, the Concept Platform Project, Microsoft is encouraging developers to create purpose-specific or single-tasked devices based on the Intel x86 architecture. The initiative goals include Internet terminals, multimedia controls, and other OEM products.

While getting these initiatives under way, Microsoft released NT 4.0 Service Pack 5 (SP5). Microsoft describes SP5 as optional—SP4 is the primary service pack that most people need to deploy for Y2K fixes. SP5 only adds one more Y2K improvement. SP5 is available for NT Server 4.0, NT Workstation 4.0, and NT Server 4.0, Enterprise Edition for both Alpha and Intel processors. Microsoft doesn't plan to put SP5 into retail NT 4.0 packages. A Web download offers the Express-Install and Full-Install options. The Express-Install option performs an auto-detect and installs only the fixes relevant to the system configuration it detects. The full SP5 installation includes all new fixes and earlier service packs.

SP5 comes fast on the heels of SP4 because of feedback Microsoft received from major corporate clients. These clients want to see the regular and systematic release of incremental deployed-system improvements. For example, Sun releases quarterly updates of the Solaris OS. Therefore, we might see more and smaller service packs from Microsoft in the future.