This week, Microsoft will officially unveil Windows XP (Whistler) and its new UI, but a report in Computer Reseller News (CRN) says we can expect the OS Beta 2 release in 2 weeks--on February 28. The report, which quotes unknown sources close to the company, also contains a rather aggressive release schedule: Windows XP Home Edition and Professional will be released to manufacturing on May 30, while the Server editions--as yet unnamed--will ship October 1. The October date is especially suspect, given public comments Microsoft has made about its Whistler release plans. But a late May release of the XP clients is possible, because Beta 2 will be the last beta release for these products.
  
Windows XP Beta 2 will include a new visual theme (code-named Luna), significant performance improvements, and new terminal-services capabilities, according to the CRN report. CRN quoted sources that describe the new UI as more visually appealing, with larger, friendlier icons rendered in 24-bit color. And the Luna UI is reportedly designed to work across various applications in XP, including Internet Explorer (IE) 6 and Windows Media Player (WMP) 8. One source noted that Luna windows feature rounded corners, while others have speculated that Luna is XML-based. Windows XP Beta 2 also will feature the new logon screen that debuted during Bill Gates' keynote address at the Computer Electronics Show (CES).
  
Beta 2 will refresh the Whistler server editions, and corporations are eager to see the new features, which have been less widely touted than the client improvements. CRN says that Whistler Server Beta 2 will include drag-and-drop object management in Active Directory (AD), a Resultant Set of Policy (RsoP) feature to perform "what if" scenarios before committing changes, cross-forest management capabilities, a new version of the Microsoft Management Console (MMC), and a number of AD-related bug fixes.
  
CRN says that Microsoft plans to ship Windows XP Release Candidate 1 (RC1) in late March and RC2 April 24. Meanwhile, Whistler Server will have at least one more beta cycle, with RC1 due in late July, followed by RC2 on August 28. I couldn't confirm those dates.
  
Although critics have long denounced Microsoft for maintaining separate consumer- and business-oriented OS products, consolidating these lines with XP introduces some interesting new problems. How Microsoft plans to market a product with a dual-use personality remains to be seen, and it'll be interesting to see how corporations react to a Windows release that seems to almost exclusively target home users. Either way, we should know more tomorrow, when executives Bill Gates and Jim Allchin introduce Windows XP and its new UI at the Experience Music Project (EMP) in Seattle