According to several beta testers who have contacted me personally, the technical beta for Millennium--the next version of Consumer Windows, the follow-up to Windows 98 Second Edition--has begun. But if you spend any time browsing the Web looking for news about Millennium, you're going to run into rumors and opinion that are touted as "fact." Unfortunately, there's a lot of baloney floating around out there.

Let's take a look at some of it.

On the "Beta News" Web site, for example, Nate Mook provides the following factoids about Millennium:

  • Legacy I/O support has been removed.

  • DOS is dead. The Command Prompt is missing from the Start Menu.

  • Beta 1 will ship in September.

  • Millennium is code-sharing with Windows 2000.

  • Microsoft is shooting for a Q1 2000 release date.

  • Millennium will be a full 32-bit OS for consumers.
It's all very interesting. Too bad none of the previous statements are true. Here's the real deal:
  • Legacy I/O support has not been removed, though a new type of signed driver is now supported.

  • DOS is not dead: The MS-DOS command prompt is right where it always was in the Start Menu. But Microsoft is doing something a little sneaky by "hiding" DOS from users during boot-up and shut down. Fear not, it's still there.

  • Microsoft has no official release date for Beta 1. September is an obvious guess, but nothing more.

  • Millennium is not really sharing much code with Windows 2000, certainly no more than Windows 98 was. The Consumer Windows team has "melded" the Windows 2000 shell into Millennium, but that's no surprise. The underpinnings of Millennium remain firmly rooted in Windows 98, not 2000.

  • Microsoft is shooting for release date sometime in 2000, but even their most optimistic predictions place the release in mid-to-late 2000. Windows 98 SE took a full year to develop and release: This version will take at least that long.

  • Millennium will not be a full 32-bit OS for consumers. Like Windows 98 before it, Millennium is a 16/32-bit OS. Yes, it is for consumers, but that's no surprise.
Don't believe me? Well, even Microsoft has denounced this report, saying that it contains numerous factual inaccuracies. "It's just not that far along yet," a Microsoft representative said, referring to Mook's comments.

The moral behind this, of course, is that you need to take any "news" you read on the Internet with a grain of salt. And yes, I'd include WinInfo in that list. The difference here, of course, is that I try to be clear about the line between opinion and fact. And I always admit when I'm wrong, because this is all about accuracy and fair reporting, not one-upmanship. Until I hear differently, most of the "reporting" that I've seen about Millennium on the Web has been simple conjecture, nothing more.

Sites like Beta news are popular because, let's face it, they'll print anything about beta Windows releases. But Beta News, like many other Web sites, has no special "insider" information about Windows: They simply get their info from the single most uninformed source on the planet, Microsoft's beta testers. As anyone who's tested software for Microsoft will tell you, these people are the last to know about the real information, which they often read about in PC Week or whatever before hearing "officially" from Microsoft.

--Pau