Microsoft will kick off its Windows NT 5.0 marketing blitz a week after the launch of Windows 98 when it hosts its NT Development Conference in San Jose California from June 30th to July 2nd. Microsoft is describing the event as the unofficial kick-off to the Windows NT 5.0 launch, which is expected in early 1999. To give you an idea of how important this event is to Microsoft, the company had originally only invited its so-called RDP (Rapid Deployment Program) partners, those companies that get weekly builds of Windows NT 5.0 so that they can developer drivers and other Windows NT 5.0-compatible solutions (The RDP members--which include companies such as Compaq, IBM, and Hewlett Packard--will help Microsoft in upgrading its customers to NT 5.0). Now, however, Microsoft intends to open up the NT 5 conference to 3000 other guests, essentially quadrupling the attendance. Currently, the plan is for Microsoft to deliver Windows NT 5.0 Beta 2 to attendees at the conference, though the company isn't sure it will make that date anymore. Microsoft told TechEd attendees last week that Beta 2 might not be ready until late July or early August. On a positive note, they did say that "hundreds of thousands" of people will have access to that release, suggesting that a consumer preview is likely.

Regardless of the ever-slipping release date of Beta 2, Microsoft has a plan to ensure that the final release date of NT 5.0 doesn't slip further. Any features that aren't basically ready after the release of Beta 2 will be folded into a future NT release, code-named "Asteroid." It's unclear at this time what name this product will be marketed under, though both "NT 5.1" and "NT 5.0 Service Pack 1" have been thrown around. An Option Pack release is also a possibility. Regardless, expect the Asteroid release within a year of NT 5.0's release