MICROSOFT HAS CANCELLED the previously separate "Neptune" and "Odyssey" projects, melding the two into a cohesive strategy for the future of Windows 2000. "Neptune," as you may know, was to be the next consumer version of Windows after Millennium, and the first to be based on Windows 2000. And "Odyssey" was the previous codename for the next version of Windows 2000 for businesses. My sources tell me that the consumer version of Neptune became a black hole when all the features that were cut from Millennium (Windows 98 Third Edition, due this summer) were simply re-tagged as Neptune features. And since Neptune and Odyssey would be based on the same code-base anyway, it made sense to combine them into a single project, in the same way that Windows 2000 Professional and Server were tested together. What's the codename for this revamped next-generation version of Windows 2000 that will come in business and consumer flavors, you ask? It's called "Whistler." You heard it here first.

I'VE HEARD FROM a lot people interested in Office 2000 Service Release 1 (SR1) and I'm happy to say that I've finally got the scoop on this update, which is due out in mid-February. SR1 will be released as a free download from the Microsoft Web site for Office 2000 users. It includes an update to Outlook 2000 that allows for Hotmail email access without any banner ads, and a number of bug fixes including an Outlook 2000 migration fix from Windows 9.x to Windows 2000, the Excel 2000 SYLK File Security update, the Excel Programmatic Text Export update, the WORM Explore.Zip virus update, the Internet Explorer 5.0a to IE 5.1 update, and a number of system level component update to allow for better compatibility with Windows 2000 (MDAC is bumped from version 2.1 to 2.5, Windows Installer is updated from 1.0 to 1.1, Web Folder improvements, etc.).

MICROSOFT HAS DELAYED the release of Windows 2000 DataCenter Server, the ultra high-end version of Windows 2000 Server, until June. But if you're interested in Windows 2000 being as stable as it can be, this is nothing but good news: DataCenter Server will ship with Service Pack 1 in the box, which should shut up the reliability naysayers nicely. As for Windows 2000 SP1, obviously this means we'll see it by June. But the news from the SP camp is good, too: The team is hardcore about quality and will focus SP1 on must-have bug fixes only and not include every little change under the sun "just in case."

NOVELL HAS SET up a cute little Web site designed to counter the Windows 2000 promotion overload coming out of Redmond: Dubbed "the Novell Advantage over Windows 2000," this site promises daily articles that refute key claims about Windows 2000, including rebuttals to specific Microsoft claims about Novell NDS. It's healthy competition at its finest and I recommend it to all Windows 2000 fans.

EVERYONE'S FAVORITE FILE compression utility is being upgraded to a new version. The good folks at Nico Mak Computing have unveiled the first beta of WinZip 8.0, which features Windows Themes compatibility, new animations for those long decompressions, email enhancements, an optional new Explorer-style GUI, and other new features. For more information and the free download, please visit the WinZip Web site.

STEVE JOBS DECIDED to become the permanent CEO of Apple Computer after two years as an interim CEO and the company rewarded him handsomely with 10 million shares of Apple stock (worth approximately $1 billion) and a Gulfstream airplane. Not bad for a guy that was previously making $1 a year from his Apple gig.

SPEAKING OF APPLE, the company just released an update to its QuickTime software, bringing the package up to version 4.1. I can't find any information on what's new in QuickTime 4.1 exactly, but you can download the update from the Apple Web site if you're interested.

THANKS TO ELI Allen for sending along a terrific link to an in-depth look at Transmeta's new Crusoe microprocessor, which can emulate Intel x86 chips while providing a full day's worth of battery life on mobile devices. Check it out at the Ars Technica Web site