An odd report on the Web last weekend stated that Windows Millennium Edition ("Windows Me"), the next version of Windows 98, was behind schedule and suggested that it might even miss the lucrative 2000 holiday season. This contradicts information I've received, so I began contacting beta testers to see whether something was amiss. The state of Windows Me, as I expected, is quite good, contrary to the report. Expect a Beta 3 release within the month.

"More and more, \[Windows Me\] looks like Windows 2000," said one tester, who requested anonymity. "If you sat down at a Windows Me computer, you'd never know it wasn't Windows 2000 \[without really looking\]."

As reported previously in WinInfo, Windows Me combines the look and feel of Windows 2000 with the hardware and software compatibility of Windows 98. However, the Windows 9x line of products was never known for its reliability, so Microsoft removed the most common causes of problems on a 9x system while adding new reliability features. System File Protection will ensure that key system files are not overwritten by applications, for example, while a System Restore feature will allow users to return a disabled system to a previously known state. And the removal of Real Mode DOS has stabilized the system while speeding up startup and shutdown times dramatically. Overall, the effect is quite positive: Windows Me will never reach the reliability of its high-end NT/2000 cousins, but it's much more stable than Windows 98. Each of the testers I contacted agrees on this point.

"I think we're ready for \[the\] Beta 3 \[release\]," a tester wrote. "Millennium is very stable."

A quick survey of hardware and software compatibility raised no serious concerns, and Windows Me appears to meet or exceed the standard set by Windows 98. As for the problematic TCP/IP stack, which is indeed a new and improved version, testers had mixed reactions: For some, it worked fine. Others weren't so sure.

"\[The last build\] was broken ... my network card refused to connect to the Internet \[using a cable modem\], but the latest build we got fixed this problem," a tester told me, noting that Microsoft issues new builds to testers each week.

Another tester noted that there are some problems with networking but that that was the only problem with the OS.

"Networking is all or nothing right now, either you're connected or you're not," he said. "I had to change a DHCP setting in the Registry to get it to work. But that's the only problem I've had with it."

Indeed, the Beta 3 release is expected sometime this month, with final code due to RTM on May 26th. This would cause Windows Me to make a late June/early July street date, right on schedule for retailers and PC makers to start stocking up for holiday sales. So far, there are no indications that Microsoft won't meet these dates. And the company is hosting a Microsoft eXtreme event (See the last blurb of this article for details) that will detail Windows Me publicly for the first time; expect to see Beta 3 at this event.

"It's not bad, it really isn't," said one tester. "Early on, it seemed like this was going to be a throw-away release. But the rough edges are gone, and it's a great system. I'm going to use it on my main system \[when it's released\]."

"It's a great little \[OS\] for the casual user," another tester reported. "They need to really make sure that people know it's a consumer release. Gamers are going to be disappointed with Windows 2000. \[Windows Me\] is perfect for people that aren't computer savvy.