Microsoft launched Windows 2000 (Win2K) on Thursday, February 17 at the 3-day Windows 2000 Conference & Expo in San Francisco. Chairman and Chief Software Architect, Bill Gates, announced the OS's availability to an audience of 5000 in a keynote address. Telecast around the world, the launch event included not only Gates' keynote, but also an appearance by Star Trek: The Next Generation's Patrick Stewart, a 40-foot laptop, and a performance by rock 'n roll legend Santanaâ€”probably the group's most televised performance since Woodstock. Win2K is the latest version of Microsoft's client/server OS product line. It is based on the Windows NT kernel, making it the successor to NT 4.0, not Windows 98. Win2K comes in several sizes: a client package, Windows 2000 Professional (Win2K Pro), for desktops and laptops; a server package, Windows 2000 Server (Win2K Server), for low-end servers; and a larger, harder-to-use, and more involved server package, Windows 2000 Advanced Server (Win2K AS), for large business and departmental servers. Microsoft took this opportunity to mention several future OS products. The company plans to ship Windows 2000 Datacenter Server (Datacenter) in about 4 months. Microsoft is also developing Windows 2000/64 (Win2K/64), which supports 64-bit computing on Intel's forthcoming Itanium chip, and Embedded Windows 2000 (Embedded Win2K). In addition, Microsoft will soon ship a new version of Win98 called Windows Millennium Edition for the consumer market. Because Win2K is based on the business-oriented NT kernel and not on the consumer-oriented Windows 9x kernel, many beta testers have had a difficult time locating device drivers. Traditionally, peripherals makers, especially in the entertainment industry, have written drivers mostly for Win9x. Microsoft's big Win2K push has sent many device manufacturers scampering to produce drivers for that OS. Companies such as ATI Technologies, makers of 3D graphics accelerators, released Win2K drivers for its products on Thursday. Gates said that Win2K is a "broad and rich product that is taking the richness of the pre-digital world and moving it onto the Internet." According to Gates, Win2K's reliability and scalability will "achieve a level of transaction support never seen before." Gates touted some benchmarks, the most impressive of which was a 12-node cluster made from Compaq ProLiants running SQL Server 2000 on Win2K AS at 227,079 TPM-C (a throughput benchmark measuring transactions per minute from the Transaction Processing Performance Council). The cluster, said Gates, is worth about $2.9 million. Gates claimed that this cluster can deliver transactions at one-third the per-transaction cost on a comparable UNIX system. Microsoft repeatedly emphasized the large-scale effort that had resulted in Win2K: more than $2 billion spent; more than 5000 employees involved; the OS's availability in more than 60 languages; the 750,000 beta testers; and so on. Microsoft also claims that more than 250 corporations have already deployed Win2K in mission-critical applications and that more than 150,000 Win2K clients and 9000 Win2K servers are in operation. Microsoft even placed a sound-byte on its Web site from third-party migration specialist, Aelita Software, claiming that Aelita had migrated a network of 30 computers from NT to Win2K in 5 minutesâ€”if you can believe that! Microsoft began an internal transition 9 months ago; all the company's 70,000 desktops have now switched to Win2K. For many hard-core Windows addicts, the Win2K launch brings little new from Microsoft. Much of the product has been available for months in the form of beta versions, release candidates, and prerelease ready-to-manufacture Gold code. Instead, Windows insiders are welcoming the new availability of third-party device drivers.