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MS downscales Millennium plans – allegedly

But they weren't really that upscale in the first place

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Analysis The Register was tickled to see a Smart Reseller story earlier this week suggesting a massive downscaling of Microsoft's plans for Millennium. The downscaling - no new user interface, no task-based Activity Centers, and maybe Millennium is just going to be a point release to Windows 98 - matches The Register's predictions earlier this year rather nicely. It also (with the exception of the Activity Center stuff, which we'll get back to in a couple of days) matches what we know of what's been in the pre-beta builds of Millennium - to any one who's seen them, it seems pretty clear there's no real radical change from Win98 SE. What it doesn't match is the Microsoft OS roadmap laid out in an earlier, er, Smart Reseller piece by the er, same authors as the latest one. We at The Register have no highly-placed Microsoft sources, and frankly, we view this as a massive competitive advantage. Back in April Smart Reseller ran a story based on Microsoft documents it said it had seen. Check here for the story, and here for our take on it. Then, the word from Microsoft (or from its documents) was that Millennium was going to be "a key component of EasyPC," which is (was? - we'll cover this RSN as well) the easy to use PC spec Intel and Microsoft had cobbled up a couple of weeks earlier. We said at the time that, as Microsoft was saying EasyPC prototypes would be out by the end of the year, in that case Microsoft would have to get a move on with Millennium. The alternative to this was revealed last month, at Intel Develop Forum - Windows 98 SE is the OS for this year's models, so MS doesn't have to hurry after all. But that also means that if the damn things will run with SE, they can always run with a point release of SE. Confused? This is an MS OS strategy, after all. We're particularly smug about what we said next so, sorry, we're going to quote it extensively: "It seems clear that the new 'last' rev of Win9x, Millennium, will either be a nightmare to develop or will turn out to be just another service pack on steroids. [heh, heh] Similarly 2001's effort, the revived consumer NT (codenamed Neptune) will be a development pig - Microsoft's confidence in it actually happening can be gauged by the existence of a contingency plan to ship yet another 9x rev in 2001 after all, in the event of Neptune failing to make the grade and/or ship on time. "Microsoft is telling potential beta testers for Millennium that they should expect it to be 'legacy free,' i.e. that it won't include Dos support any more. That means a kernel rewrite, and doing this while maintaining compatibility with Win9x software (games being particularly important for a consumer OS) will likely cause plenty of headaches. [We correctly noted that a truly legacy free OS couldn't be achieved without massive engineering effort - the Millennium builds hide Dos from the user, but that's it, it's still there] "At the moment therefore we'd say Microsoft is going through its standard over-optimistic phase in developing Millennium - later, as the deadline looms, it'll quite possibly get scaled back to that service pack on steroids we mentioned. ZD predicts a public beta for late summer this year, but it's difficult to see how that would fit with a radical rewrite. [Did we call that right, or what?]" However, we're now sceptical about the notion that MS will downgrade Millennium to a service pack formally. Windows 98 was a service pack to Windows 95, and Windows 98 SE was a service pack to Windows 98, but they were both packaged as upgrades, and they both followed a pattern that has been documented extensively over the past year. Microsoft has big problems in making big leaps in OS software. But it also has demands in terms of revenue from OS software, and it really, really wants (hello again, MS OEM chief Joachim Kempin) to get customers to give it some money for software on an annual basis. The solution (so far) to this conundrum is to do an annual refresh of the Win9x code base and sell it. Because it's a reasonably solid and well-understood base, simply adding on the right number of go-fasters and gee-whizzes keeps things spinning, and alongside this MS can still run the scary monster development path, great entirely new operating systems that miss their ETAs by years. There are problems with this, of course. One day the music has to stop on Win9x. And maybe before that (maybe already) the customers are going to stop believing a service pack with added home networking is in fact a new operating system. If Microsoft felt this was happening, and if it also felt it could make Neptune work on time (ludicrously big 'if') then maybe it would downgrade Millennium in terms of marketing. But go back to EasyPC, and to the (far more important) PC2001 roadmap. The hardware will be having legacy devices ripped out, and Microsoft is committed (albeit only vaguely, but the Intel SWAT teams will nail them sooner or later) to coming up with something that can at least look credible to support these great new, easy to use platforms. If come second half 2000 MS is still peddling a point release of Win98 SE as the OS of choice for the new consumer platforms, it's going to look very silly indeed. That doesn't mean it'll build a great new OS on Millennium, no way, but the marketing machine will kick in to try to convince you it has. You don't have to believe, of course. ®

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