According to reports, Microsoft is quietly telling developers to expect a Spring 1999 launch for Windows NT 5.0, some months before the earliest estimates. Publicly, of course, Microsoft has mentioned late 1999 as the earliest possible release date: In an address earlier this month, Microsoft president Steve Ballmer said NT 5.0 was still some "8 to 12 months" away.

Why the earlier release date estimates? Beta 2, a near feature-complete release, has gotten a more favorable reception than expected. Also, Microsoft told attendees at last week's Intel Developer's Forum that Beta 3 could be expected by Thanksgiving with final code delivery "12 to 15 weeks" after that. This timetable places the launch of Windows NT 5.0 in March or April 1999.

"The information you hear about Microsoft trying to get NT 5.0 out early is true," said an anonymous Microsoft development partner. "They've told developers we need to have our final NT 5.0 products done by March 1."

While most industry analysts have pegged late 1999 to 2000 for a likely release point, my own experience with Beta 2 suggests that this product is much further along than some people think. I've created a Windows NT 5.0 SuperSite that discusses this, by the way. The Beta 3 release of Windows NT 5.0--regardless of when it is released--will be available to anyone who can pay the cost of shipping the media. Microsoft intends for Beta 3 to be available to anyone that wants to test it