New version of Windows 98 due in Q2?
Forget convergence on the NT code base - Windows 9x, the Sinatra of operating systems, ain't retiring
Microsoft has tacitly confirmed that a consumer operating system based on the NT kernel is off the agenda for the foreseeable future. Last week's leaks of the company reorganisation plans had Jim Allchin running development of a new version of Windows 9x , meaning that 98 was by no means the last of the line, and now it seems that the latest build of the Windows 98 service pack has sprouted a name, and started to turn into a full-blown product. Unhappily, Microsoft seems to have rejected The Register's suggestion that Windows Millennium Edition would be a suitable product name, and is working with Windows 98 Second Edition instead. But the sudden transformation of a service pack into a new version of the operating system confirms our suspicions that Microsoft is planning a quick and dirty revenue generator with added bells and whistles, and more Redmond-generated standards to pull users closer into the Microsoft Web. Second Edition will for example include Internet Explorer 5.0, and it will undoubtedly fix the ID number 'feature' whose discovery caused a privacy storm earlier this month. How Microsoft will fix that is of course the $64k question, but it won't exactly be surprising if it turns out that Second Edition nevertheless tightens up the online registration process further. On the current schedule Microsoft won't be able to slide longer term development efforts like Universal Plug and Play into Second Edition. The company is effectively taking a service pack and calling it an operating system instead, so the new 'rev' will be with us sooner rather than later. But it now appears that there's plenty more where that came from - rather than terminating the old line at Windows 98 and moving over to a converged code base, Microsoft is mooting another version after Second Edition. Unhappily, this isn't going to be called Millennium Edition either - reportedly, it will be Windows 2000 Personal Edition, and it's slated to ship sometime after Windows 2000 itself does. This onward march of Windows 9x code into the foreseeable future is significant for a number of reasons. Microsoft has obviously concluded that it can neither build a viable consumer-oriented version of Windows 2000 nor make it stick, so it has instead decided to continue with a twin track approach. It will probably still try to switch business customers over to NT/Win2k, but elsewhere 9x will remain king for at least the next three to five years. Abandoning convergence however means the pressure is off from a development point of view, and as the 9x code base is stable (comparatively) Microsoft has the ability to ship out "new" versions of the operating systems as and when it feels the need. To get that into context, note that if Windows 98 Second Edition ships in the first half of this year, it will be the first time in recent years that Microsoft has shipped a new operating system two years in a row. That might help take the company closer to its goal of generating annual revenue, or "annuity income," as it puts it, from its software. But there might be another reason for rushing out another version of 98 and putting it through retail as well. If Microsoft thinks it's likely to lose the antitrust action, and reckons its ability to integrate features will be severely restricted by the courts, then it will want to get as much it can out there beforehand. And if it's seriously thinking of coming to terms with the DoJ, then Second Edition could turn out to be the 'last hurrah' product it wants to hit the streets before it signs. ®
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