When Microsoft's Deborah Willingham and Brian Valentine announced Windows 2000 Beta 3 on Thursday, one thing became very clear: This isn't your usual beta release. Unlike previous milestones on the road to Windows 2000, the Beta 3 release is the first feature-complete, production quality build the team has created and it wants enterprise customers, developers, and other business customers testing it as early and as often as possible.

For Microsoft, this massive release--over 650,000 testers will receive Beta 3--is particularly important. Aside from Microsoft's own deployment of the beta OS, twenty three Rapid Deployment Partners (RDP) will be deploying Windows 2000 Beta 3 in production environments over the next three months. But it doesn't stop there: By evaluating Windows 2000 Beta 3 today, with various hardware and software configurations, corporate customers of all sizes can determine how best to deploy the OS when it's released by year's end.

"Windows 2000 Beta 3 is a huge step forward in enterprise readiness," says Willingham. "Reliability is up, on both the client and server. And Windows 2000 scales from the workgroup to the enterprise. Our Server product is at least twice as scalable as the previous version (Windows NT 4.0)."

The benefits of Windows 2000 to businesses are obvious: The simplicity initiative, as well as technologies such as Active Directory and IntelliMirror, has lowered overall total cost of ownership (TCO). Administrators and support personal will have an easier time supporting Windows 2000 networks. And Windows 2000 is "world ready" with global deployment and Multilanguage support.

Windows 2000 Beta 3 is important because it's the first release of this massive OS that's ready for business desktops and servers. And businesses now have at least five months to evaluate the first feature-complete version of Windows 2000. Microsoft says that one out of every two corporations in America will evaluate Windows 2000 Beta 3 before the end of the year.

"People need access to the code early," says Microsoft VP Ed Muth. "A broad beta release \[such as Beta 3\] does this. Given our experience with other OS releases and the excellent condition of the \[Windows 2000\] code today, we are confident we will ship this calendar year.