Here comes 'Millennium' - the new Windows

Microsoft is planning a simpler Windows for the new Millennium.

The company on Friday announced beta 1 of "Millennium," the code-name for next year's successor to Windows 98 Second Edition. It has since, however, pulled the press release announcing the release from its site.

According to Betanews.com, build 2380.2 of the operating system was to be its first beta -- the first code released to potential customers and developers -- but has now lost its Beta 1 status, possibly due to a major bug discovered at the last minute.

At any rate, Microsoft's strategy is to improve the operating system in four different areas, according to BetaNews. With Millennium, Microsoft will seek to make it easier for users to gain access to the Internet and to employ home networking. At the same time, the company will aim to improve the operating system's multimedia support.

Millennium will also support the Easy PC initiative, which is a joint venture between Microsoft, Intel and PC makers to remove older hardware components from PCs and at the same time make the products simpler to use. Under the initiative PC makers will, for example, eliminate the 16-bit ISA bus for communications and video boards and rely on newer technologies, such as universal serial bus.

One way Microsoft hopes to make PCs simpler to use is by adding new "shells" or user interfaces into Millennium. One such shell will be the Web-savvy hypertext markup language-based Desktop Version 2. It will aim to make the Windows desktop and start menu easier to navigate. By splitting the screen to offer tasks on the left side and data on the right.

Another set of shells, called Activity Centres, will group tools for specific functions together into a single window. A Photo Centre and a Music Centre will help users to catalogue photos and music. A Game Centre will help users install games and help tune their PCs for gaming by helping to optimise system resources.

Microsoft will work to improve Internet and home network access with a series of wizards that, for example, allow a user to easily connect to a universal plug-and-play-enabled device. Universal Plug-and-Play is a new device-connection technology from Microsoft for connecting over a network devices including PCs, appliances and consumer electronics.

A number of other features will aim to ease set up. Microsoft will also add self-healing features to the operating system: This feature automatically reinstalls certain key Windows files if they are deleted accidentally.

The second Millennium beta is expected before the end of the year.

Microsoft was unavailable for comment.

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