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Whistler and Blackcomb – the Windows 2000 .NET future

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Special report Microsoft is working on two future releases of Windows 2000 that will maximize the integration of .NET Framework facilities. The two-stage release is designed to provide the earliest possible availability of major features.

"Whistler," the code name for the next release of Windows 2000, is cirrently at beta 1 stage, and is expected to debut during the summer of 2001. Whistler is Microsoft's plan for an uber-OS that marries NT stability with Millennium Edition's easy-to-use interface and home-computing capabilities. Starting next winter, the Whistler family of operating systems will slowly begin to replace all current Microsoft OSs, from the Windows 95/98 to future Windows 2000 upgrades.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft promises that Whistler will be the most stable and dependable Windows ever, designed to provide the best experience at home and in business. Because Microsoft has based Whistler on its supposedly sturdy 2000 core, the company feels safe in claiming reliability and can woo home users with the enhanced digital media, home networking, and online experience already created for Windows Me. Business users, Microsoft says, will get the core Windows 2000 virtues - power, productivity, and management - in the Professional version.

But Microsoft doesn't want you to upgrade to Whistler. Although the company plans to sell some upgrades, it won't encourage you to buy them. Instead, Microsoft says you'll get a better OS if you just buy a new computer with Whistler preinstalled. Sound crazy? Well, this attitude could be Whistler's most revolutionary feature.

Goodbye 9x

If you're running Windows 95, you won't be able to upgrade to Whistler. Period. Got Windows 98? You can buy the upgrade, but, according to Microsoft, your resulting operating system won't run as well or as reliably as it would preinstalled on a new machine. Given its code similarities, only Windows 2000 will weather the upgrade well. Microsoft is perfectly frank on the issue, though, and we think the final version of Whistler could be worth a whole new system. If you're still running Windows 95, Whistler might be a good reason to upgrade, but it's bound to frustrate the folks who get left behind.

Whistler will first of all be an update of the client, or desktop, operating system. The server versions of Whistler are intended to ship after the client, although both are still promised for second half 2001. There will be two desktop versions of Whistler, which could be dubbed Windows 2001 Personal and Windows 2001 Professional. (Microsoft has not determined the final names yet.) Both of these versions are based on the Win2000 operating system. What might surprise you is that in some respects Whistler is an update of both Windows Me and Windows 2000. In Beta 1, there are few significant features that you can't find in either Windows Me or Windows 2000. But virtually everything new in Windows Me is also in Whistler. For the first time since Windows NT first shipped, Microsoft will have a unified operating system with a single code base.

App compatibility

To help Whistler run major software meant to run on Windows 95/98, Microsoft has built a clunky if effective workaround: Whistler recognizes the offending program's setup routine, fools it into thinking the PC is running a compatible version of Windows, and mimics a Windows 95-style Registry and setup folders. It's not a panacea, but this trick solves problematic incompatibilities nicely for anyone who wants to run Whistler at home. Microsoft claims that more than 300 NT-incompatible programs will run on Whistler.

Whistler is designed to take advantage of the initial .NET suite releases. Whistler will include the .NET Framework as an integrated component of Windows 2000. It should also be noted that Whistler will replace the earlier Windows 95/Windows 98 desktop code. This should reduce the need for IT managers to support multiple Windows versions.

Blackcomb is the second release of Windows 2000 that is not anticipated for release prior to late 2002. This release will fully implement the .NET Framework, says Microsoft.

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