With Windows Me under its belt, Microsoft Corporation this week turned its attention to the first Windows.NET beta, code-named "Whistler." The Whistler Technical Beta team jokingly promises to ship Beta 1 "later this year" but won't divulge any news or details. However, people that I've talked to at Microsoft say that Whistler will feature "awesome" XML/XSL-based skinning capabilities that far surpass any customizing features in Windows today. "It's what Windows should have been years ago," I was told. Whistler, which is based on Windows 2000, will ship in a Personal Edition that will supplant Windows Me, as well as Professional, Server, Advanced Server, and Datacenter Server Editions. There will be 32-bit and 64-bit versions of each edition, except Personal Edition, which will ship only as a 32-bit product.

"\[It's\] a new product, a new line of products, Windows.NET, where the .NET technologies are infused into Windows, and we sell servers as we do today, we license clients as we do today, we license the .NET technology for other devices, whether those run Windows or do not run Windows," said Microsoft president and CEO Steve Ballmer earlier this month. "It's important in Windows.NET to start putting in elements of the \[Dot NET\] user interface, elements of the \[Dot NET\] programming model, tightly and nicely integrated into the Windows product, at the client level and over time at the server level." Ballmer notes that Windows.NET will ship "next year"; internally, the company expects to ship it in Q2 2000.

The Whistler user interface builds heavily on the Activity Center model that I've written about extensively on the Windows SuperSite. "\[The PC platform\] is going to shift to more of what we think of as an activity center," says Microsoft vice president Rick Belluzzo. "We bring together a full range of activities, productivity, creativity, communications, entertainment, shopping, all integrated in a very, very rich environment, with a very rich user experience. Windows ME ... will start to build on this activity center concept, as well as more changes in MSN, including a new user experience \[that will ship in MSN 6, code-named "Mars"\]