Microsoft Corporation is preparing to issue its first beta release of "Whistler," the next version of Windows 2000. And this release will run the gamut from a new Personal Edition that will ultimately replace Windows Me, to a series of high-end 64-bit products for Intel Itanium processor-based systems. The initial rollout of the beta will be focused exclusively on Microsoft's closest partners, such as software developers, hardware companies, PC makers, Joint Development Program (JDP) members, and corporate deployment professionals. And unlike the Windows 2000 beta, which lasted almost three years, Microsoft is promising a "very aggressive timeframe" for Whistler: The company plans to ship the product in April 2001.

"Given the importance of the consumer market to the Whistler release, this program also introduces 'Whistler Personal,' \[which is\] intended for focused, key consumer testers," an internal Microsoft email announcement reads. "We expect everyone in the Technical Beta to really focus their development and/or testing efforts in a partnership with us to meet program objectives in a very aggressive timeframe. This is not an evaluation-based program."

Microsoft will issue four types of testing kits for Whistler Beta 1. The first, Whistler Personal, will include CDs for the Personal Edition of Whistler only. This product is aimed at the home/consumer market. The Whistler32 Tech Beta program will include Whistler Personal, Whistler Professional, Whistler Server, and Whistler Advanced Server. With the exception of the Personal Edition, these products will directly replace the products of the same name in the Windows 2000 family. The Whistler32 Developer Tech Beta is geared toward developers who will target improved application and hardware compatibility with Whistler products. This will include the Whistler Software Development Kit (SDK) and Device Driver Development Kit (DDK.). Finally, the Whistler64 Tech Beta will be restricted to testers that have Intel Itanium prototype hardware. It will include 64-bit versions of Whistler Professional, Server, SDK, and DDK releases