Even though Memphis (excuse me, "Windows 98") isn't even out the door yet, Microsoft officials are already looking past this product to future versions of Windows. And the future they see is all Windows NT and Windows CE, which will eventually share a common kernel. In fact, Microsoft officials said that by the year 2000, Windows 98 will be replaced by a consumer version of Windows NT. The name of this product is speculated to be "Windows Personal Edition."

By the end of the decade there will be several iterations of NT, including consumer, desktop, server and multi-user versions, Phil Holden, Windows product manager said. Windows CE, which is currently used only in small handheld computers, will be reworked as the front-end for Microsoft's Windows Terminal, WebTV, and sub-notebook devices.

To jumpstart the shift to an NT-only kernel, Microsoft is asking developers to write applications and device drivers that support the new 95- and NT- compatible Windows Driver Model (WDM). An update to this specification, known as the Universal Driver Model (UDM) will support Windows CE as well, said Jonathan Roberts, divisional marketing manager in Microsoft's business systems division.

The first step in this Windows NT future is Windows NT 5.0, which will debut as a beta release at the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in September. NT 5.0 will support a new feature called IntelliMirror that automatically mirrors a user's applications, customized settings, and data to a central server. Users will then have access to these things regardless of the machine they are using. Mobile users can access it from the road as well.

Microsoft will also provide a new universal API for Windows NT 5.0 system services at the PDC. Know simply as Application Services, this API is designed to give developers a common interface for accessing database, mail, file, transaction, controls, forms, and user interface services on Windows NT 5.0, said Rich Tong, group product manager for Microsoft's Personal and Business Systems Group. The API also promises to write applications that run both online and offline without modification by creating virtual sessions that let Windows NT services believe an offline client is still connected to the server, Tong said. Based on this preliminary description, it sounds like this technology may be based on OLE-DB, but we'll have to wait until detailed whitepapers are released to find out for sure