Special: earlybird preview of NT 5.0 Beta

At this week's Professional Developer's Conference (PDC), when Microsoft releases the long awaited first beta of Windows NT 5.0, attendees will be quick to notice one important thing: Microsoft's desire to deliver a feature-complete beta to developers at this conference hasn't even come close to fruition.

At this week's Professional Developer's Conference (PDC), when Microsoft releases the long awaited first beta of Windows NT 5.0, attendees will be quick to notice one important thing: Microsoft's desire to deliver a feature-complete beta to developers at this conference hasn't even come close to fruition. Highly touted changes such as Plug and Play and power management are in the beta, but their implementations are incomplete.

The most visible change in Beta 1 is the IE 4.0 shell integration, which makes the interface quite similar to that of the IE 4.0 Preview Release. When IE 4.0 ships at the end of this month (September 30, according to Microsoft), you will be able to download it and in so doing, see the desktop interface for both Windows NT 5.0 and Windows 98. Another noticeable change is that the tools found in the Administrative Tools folder will no longer be standalone applications but will be incorporated into Microsoft Management Console (MMC) as Snap-Ins.

As mentioned, Beta 1 does include partial support for Plug and Play, and Microsoft has added a new Hardware Wizard to the Device Manager, which lets you configure resource settings for hardware and is similar to Windows 95's hardware configuration. Unfortunately, the ability to hot swap devices isn't fully implemented in Beta 1, so if you plan to install Beta 1 on a notebook and swap PC Cards, you may be out of luck. Some devices will work, but full support isn't available in this first beta.

Power management is available only in the form of ACPI (Advanced Configuration and Power Interface), and you will need hardware that supports this OS-based power management. The latest Intel Pentium II chipset, the 440LX, supports ACPI in desktop systems. Systems based on this chipset also support AGP (which is not supported by NT in this beta) and USB (some support in this beta). So they will be a good choice for NT 5.0 systems when the product is feature-complete.

Beta 1 includes full support for FAT32, so you can dual-boot Windows 95 OSR2 FAT32 partitions. NTFS has also been updated and now includes support for disk quotas, but the built-in defragmentation utility, licensed from Executive Software, didn't make it in. The new Kerberos-based security system is implemented in Beta 1, as is Active Directory support. (For more details on these features see "Directories," in "Get Ready for Windows NT 5.0," October 1997.)

As you've probably guessed, there's still quite a bit of work to be done on NT 5.0. Remember it took Microsoft nearly eight months to get the shipping version of NT 4.0 out the door after releasing its first betas, which were in similar shape. So it's a safe bet we won't see the full-featured NT 5.0 until the end of next April, which is, coincidentally, about the time Microsoft has given for its release of Windows 98.

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