On March 20th, Microsoft will unveil its first public preview of the next version of TCP/IP, dubbed IPv6 ("IP version 6"), for Windows 2000, a technology that was originally planned for inclusion in the new OS. The free technology preview will help developers prepare for the coming industrywide upgrade to this networking protocol. IPv6 solves the address allocation problems with the current version of TCP/IP, IPv4, by making a far wider range of IP addresses available than is currently possible. However, to change to this new system, a massive transition is required that will likely take several years. With this first preview of IPv6 for Windows 2000, Microsoft hopes to get developers up to speed on the conversion.

"The explosion in the number of users and devices connected to the Internet dictates the need to move to IP version 6," said Jawad Khaki, general manager of Networking and Communications at Microsoft. "The significance and seriousness of this change requires responsible leadership and a sound plan to ensure a smooth transition for customers in a timely fashion. We're pleased to be on track with a plan that helps coordinate availability of applications and infrastructure consistent with customer and industry needs."

To complete the conversion to IPv6, Microsoft is planning on a four-phase execution plan. In the first phase, which is already completed, the company helped develop the IPv6 standard with other companies and industry bodies. Phase two, which will commence next week, entails the shipment of a preview release of IPv6 for developers, so that they might get a head start in implementing the new technology. In phase three, Microsoft will deliver a pre-production version of the software along with IPv6-compatible test applications so that enterprise customers can evaluate the technology thoroughly. Finally, in phase four, the company will ship the final version of the technology, which will also be included in future versions of Windows.

If you're interested in previewing this technology, head over the Microsoft Web site on or after March 20th