Microsoft released a "close to feature-complete" Memphis beta 1 today to 10,000 testers, according to Adam Taylor, group product manager for the personal and business systems division at Microsoft. While this group is smaller than the 430,000 people that tested Windows 95, the release marks the first widespread testing of a major successor to Windows 95. For the most part, Memphis beta 1 resembles Windows 95 OSR-2 with the Plus! pack and Internet Explorer 4.0 thrown in. Interestingly, PC Week Labs reviewed the release and determined that they wouldn't pay more than $30 for it because the main component, IE 4, will be available for free.

The most obvious improvement in Memphis is the new Internet Explorer 4.0 shell enhancement and Active Desktop. Microsoft has handed control of the Windows 95 user interface over to the Internet Explorer group and it shows in the toolbars, menus, and other gadgets you see throughout the operating system. A single-click HTML-like interface is now standard in My Computer and Explorer, making it easier to navigate the file system and use it as if it were a Web page.

The most important changes, however, may not be obvious for the short term but will profoundly affect most users in the future. Microsoft is attempting to marry Memphis with your television broadcast signal so that enhanced broadcast content can be sent to your computer along with a TV show. At this point, almost no hardware is available that takes advantage of this feature, however. Windows NT 5.0, due next year, will also include the TV-tuner broadcast technology developed for Memphis, said Windows product manager Phil Holden.

Help abounds in Memphis as well. Online help is now HTML, not the old WinHelp format. A Windows System Update Web page updates your system if any drivers are out of date. "We will automatically slurp up the relevant information from your system," said Bill Veghte, Windows platform general manager.

Memphis integrates the Zero Administration for Windows support for Desktop Management Interface (DMI) and Web-Based Enterprise Management (WBEM) technologies as well, so that corporate users can remotely administer Memphis machines more easily. The System File Checker tracks changes to system DLLs and other files and allows you to restore the original version of an overwritten file. The System Troubleshooter lets you modify INI files without using a text editor.

Multiple display support allows you to add extra monitors and PCI video cards to your Memphis system and arrange them side to side, or on top of each other as you see fit. Extra displays can optionally be added to the desktop topology, allowing you to have huge desktops that span multiple monitors.

Microsoft has steadfastly refused to commit to a ship date for Memphis