Microsoft's Millennium meltdown?

Testers say WindowsMe is still a long way from being ready for prime time

Will WindowsMe make it onto consumer PCs in time for the holiday 2000 season? What once appeared a foregone conclusion is not quite so certain now, at least according to some beta testers who say recent beta releases remain buggy.

Microsoft's Windows Millennium Edition (aka WindowsMe) is slated for debut later this year. But this once ambitious upgrade to Windows 98 Second Edition has been considerably scaled back since it went into beta testing in 1999. WindowsMe is Microsoft's first purely consumer-focused version of Windows. In designing the upgrade, Microsoft originally sought to bolster the way the operating system hosted digital media entertainment, gaming, home and shared networking. The company also wanted to make it easier to use than its predecessor.

In addition, the product is scheduled to include Internet Explorer 5.5, the latest version of Microsoft's browser, also currently in beta testing.

In recent weeks, however, WindowsMe testers have questioned whether Microsoft will be able to ship the product by the rumoured third-quarter delivery date. "If you want to really see some buggy code, then take a test drive of Windows Millennium, which is mondo buggy," said one developer, who is participating in the private, invitation only beta test.

The developer, talking on condition of anonymity, complained that Microsoft has not acknowledged bug reports via email as it did in the past. "So you don't even know if anyone ever reads the damn things," he said.

Microsoft has reportedly added a new TCP/IP stack to the most recent beta builds, resulting in Millennium breaking "half the cards out there", according to another tester. "My laptop cannot even see the network, because the binding won't work," he said. "I can boot the same laptop into [Windows 2000] with the same settings and it is fine."

Microsoft, for its part, declined to say whether it made substantial changes to the interim builds. In fact, the company wouldn't say much of anything about WindowsMe. "We do some things in the more advanced betas that could end up disabling certain things as part of the beta process," a company spokesman said, adding that Microsoft remains "confident we will ship [Millennium] in the year 2000."

Indeed, Microsoft is making plans that look as if it will ship WindowsMe by autumn, which will give PC makers just enough time to test and preload the OS on Christmas machines. According to one tester, Microsoft is poised to provide its reseller partners with WindowsMe training materials and classes.

Earlier this month, Microsoft officials reiterated their confidence in delivering Beta 3 early in the second calendar quarter. The goal remains final delivery in time for the holiday season. Microsoft is considering issuing Beta 3 at the 8 April Microsoft eXtreme event, which will showcase consumer Windows and PocketPC in theatres across the US.

Go to the Windows 2000 special at AnchorDesk UK for all the news comment.

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