The year 2001 will be the year of Whistler, the next version of Windows. And when I say Windows, I mean just about every version. Whistler will upgrade the Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me)/Windows 9x line and the Windows 2000/Windows NT line—in the long-awaited melding of both product families. Currently, Microsoft plans to ship a wide range of Whistler releases, including 32-bit versions of Server, Advanced Server, Professional, and Personal, along with 64-bit (Itanium) versions of Server and Professional. And in addition to the fact that Microsoft will ship Whistler desktop versions (Professional and Personal) months before the Server versions, there are other reasons to wonder whether Whistler is a big deal for the enterprise. After all, Microsoft's pre-marketing of Whistler might make you think that it's simply a pretty desktop OS with few corporate improvements.

Here's the story. For desktop users—of both the Professional Edition and the consumer-oriented Personal Edition—Whistler will be a relatively major upgrade, featuring a new desktop with high-resolution icons, a new skinnable UI that features a stunning "watercolor" scheme as the default, and a more useful Start Menu. For Windows Me/Win9x users, Whistler provides Win2K's stability with much of Win9x's compatibility, which is not too shabby. That means Whistler Professional/Personal will include features such as System Restore, Movie Maker, and Windows Media Player from Windows Me, along with new consumer-oriented capabilities, such as CD burning and DirectX 8 gaming capabilities. Although information about Whistler's server and enterprise features has been pretty slim (we'll probably learn more when Beta 2 ships later this quarter), I've been able to find out a few things.

All versions of Whistler will feature device-driver rollback, bringing the Windows Me System Restore feature down to the driver level; if you install a device driver that doesn't work properly, you can roll the system back to the old driver and keep going. Furthermore, Whistler will track the "last-known-good" driver for each device and make it easy to restore to that driver if needed. And the feature works in Safe Mode (which is where most of us will end up if a driver goes south).

In response to a common complaint about Win2K, Whistler will support the automatic configuration of multiple networks on a single NIC. For example, let's say you have a certain network configuration on a work laptop but need a different configuration at home or at a second office location. In Win2K, you must manually reconfigure the connection each time you move—or resort to a third-party solution or multiple NICs. In Whistler, you can configure an alternative network configuration for each network connection, and the system will automatically detect and use the correct configuration.

For remote administration of headless servers and problematic clients, Whistler includes a Remote Desktop feature based on Windows 2000 Terminal Services. Remote Desktop lets administrators access systems on the network directly, without physically visiting the machine. And Terminal Services now supports audio redirect to the client and high-color displays for a more seamless experience.

You'll be able to schedule and script the free, built-in Disk Defragmenter—remotely—from a command line. Is that cheering I hear?

In Active Directory (AD), you can change the attributes for multiple user objects via a single property sheet: Simply Control-select the users you want to modify, right-click, and choose Properties. This feature makes it very easy to change attributes for a wide range of users simultaneously without resorting to programming. Group Policy has been updated in a number of ways, including more than 100 new policy settings, such as the one that governs which Control Panel applets appear on computers for a group of users.

Log files can now be larger than 1GB. The increased log file size required a new log file format, but the old format is still supported for backward compatibility.

For user migration from Win2K, NT 4.0, Windows Me, and Win9x, Whistler includes a new User State Migration Tool that will capture and restore a user's state settings, files, and documents. This tool lets users take all of their settings and documents from one machine and get going immediately on a new Whistler-based PC without having to reconfigure such elements as email settings and desktop schemes. User State Migration is a command-line tool that works with a customizable INF-style file to migrate the majority of common configuration options on today's Windows OSs to Whistler.

Whistler also supports a new "Fusion" technology called Windows Side-By-Side that uses a "WinSxS" folder to store versions of component files that application installs use (new application installs don't overwrite existing system files but write their specific files to a unique location). By isolating DLLs, each application gets the version it needs and the system remains stable.

Overall, I'm pretty excited about Whistler, and although Microsoft seems to be focusing on the desktop versions for at least the time being, I think it's going to be a great upgrade for enterprise users as well. I'll have more about Whistler enterprise features as they become available.