Microsoft announced Wednesday that the first beta of Memphis--the code-name for the next version of Windows 95--will ship to 10,000 testers over the July 4th weekend.

"We're confident we'll be out the week of June 30," said Bill Veghte, Microsoft's general manager for Memphis development.

Internet Explorer 4.0, for its part, will have a second public preview release in July as well. Microsoft vice president Brad Chase told a group of reporters and analysts on Wednesday that Internet Explorer will remain free "forever." New features expected in IE4 preview release 2 include a new Outlook Express that resembles Outlook 97 (it includes a Eudora migration tool--ouch), a new full-screen kiosk mode for the browser (yes, the old one had it; this is new), an updated version of Dynamic HTML, and better support for Cookies and secure electronic commerce. The Windows shell integration is also improved.

One thing that's become obvious in recent weeks: Memphis is nothing more than Windows 95 with new device drivers and Internet Explorer 4.0 tacked on . Indeed, Veghte mentioned that Memphis and IE 4 "are joined at the hip."

If that's the case, many users will have no reason to buy Memphis since you can get IE 4 for free. It seems that the only people who will need Memphis are the ones that buy new computers later this year: Memphis is specifically designed to work with new hardware technology such as USB, FireWire, PC-TV cards, and multiple monitor systems. On the other hand, Memphis also supports FAT32, an advanced version of the Windows 95 file system, that will benefit anyone with a large (1+ GB) hard drive