US Report: Racing to beat the Win98 clock

With the U.S. Department of Justice and dozen state attorneys general breathing down their necks, Microsoft developers and testers are putting Windows 98 through its final paces.

"We're totally on track for our internal May 15 RTM (release-to-manufacturing) date," said Rob Bennett, Microsoft group product manager. "We're hearing great things in terms of beta feedback."

Bennett would not rule out the chance that Microsoft might deliver the Windows 98 code to its partners before next Friday. "But May 15 is the target and has been for a while. We are going build-to-build at this point," he said.

Timing is everything with Windows 98 right now, as the DOJ, the states or the two in tandem could file new suits seeking to halt temporarily Microsoft's shipment of the operating system until the pending federal browser-bundling case versus Microsoft is resolved. Sources close to the case said that the states and DOJ are planning to file new cases before Microsoft delivers final Windows 98 code to its partners, in order to avoid any possible claims by Microsoft and its allies of creating a chilling effect on the market.

Both Microsoft and the DOJ this week filed motions regarding whether or not Windows 98 should be covered by Judge Thomas Penfield's preliminary injunction regarding browser bundling, which he issued last December.

Starting April 30, Windows 98 beta testers began receiving CD versions of Windows 98 Release Candidate 4 (RC-4). Microsoft is telling testers on the private "Memphis" beta web site to expect at least one more release candidate before the shipment to hardware partners and retailers of "gold," or final, code. Since RC-3, which Microsoft released to testers at the end of April, Microsoft has told testers there are no longer any "show-stopper" bugs that would hold up shipment of the operating system.

Unlike previous release-candidate builds, RC-4 requires a private product key to test the code, according to beta testers.

One beta tester said that for the past two weeks Microsoft has ceased allowing its developers to add or remove any components from the product. "It's totally ready to go," he said.

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