Microsoft revealed Wednesday that several companies are already deploying beta versions of its upcoming Windows Media Services technology, code-named Corona, in production environments. Chief among these is MSNBC, whose Web site is one of the most frequently visited online destinations, and the most popular Web-based news site. MSNBC delivers over 10 million audio and video streams per month, Microsoft says, and it has been taking advantage of Corona technology for two months now.

"The results MSNBC.com has achieved with Windows Media Services in Windows .NET Server are an indication of the big things to come from Windows Media 'Corona,'" said Dave Fester, general manager of Microsoft's Windows Digital Media Division. "We engineered the 'Corona' server not only to maximize scalability; it is engineered to deliver a faster, smoother television-like viewing experience for streamed audio and video, and optimize the economics of delivering digital media for companies on the Internet and in corporate intranets."

The Corona version of Windows Media Services is available only in the Windows .NET Server family, which will be completed late this year, according to Microsoft. Since early April, however, MSNBC has been using beta versions of the product on its Web site, and has delivered over 7 million streaming audio and video clips to users with the new server technology. MSNBC confirms that the Corona server streams media twice as efficiently as its predecessor, using the same hardware.

Other components of Corona, including new Windows Media Audio (WMA) 9 and Windows Media Video (WMV) 9 codecs, a new Windows Media Player, and a new version of the Windows Media Encoderw will become available in beta form late this summer and ship by the end of the year, Microsoft told me this week.