Countdown: WindowsMe marches on

The next version of consumer Windows, due out this year, is inching toward completion. This week, testers got the final RC for the final beta

Microsoft continued its countdown toward the next consumer release of Windows with this week's delivery to testers of the final release candidate of its final beta.

Translation: The company's still got some work to do, but Windows Millennium Edition -- aka WindowsMe -- is inching toward completion.

Microsoft is still working to deliver Beta 3 of the product to attendees of its eXtreme technology preview event, to be held in theatres across the United States on 8 April.

Microsoft has declined to give a final ship date for WindowsMe, other than to say it would ship sometime in the latter half of this year. But PC makers need the final code early in the third quarter, at the latest, to test and preload it on machines they want to sell in time for the year-end holidays.

Just a few weeks ago, some beta testers were reporting that the interim builds of WindowsMe were breaking more than they were fixing.

Microsoft had made some modifications to networking support in the most recent betas, opting to cut local-area-networking (LAN) support for NetWare and Banyan servers.

The build issued by Microsoft to WindowsMe testers on Thursday -- 2499.3 -- is considered the release candidate for Beta 3, according to tester sources who requested anonymity. "Now that we are so very, very close to the release of Final Beta, it is time to turn up the heat and really pound on the system," Microsoft said in its note to testers. "To a large degree, your feedback is what is going to improve the quality of this consumer operating system."

According to the release notes that accompanied the latest build, Microsoft is still battling incompatibilities with some mainstream software applications that users are likely to try to run on WindowsMe.

These include apps such as Adobe Systems' PageMill and Premiere, AOL 5.0, Encarta Atlas, Norton AntiVirus 5.0, and Word 2000. Some games are still not running problem-free on the latest build, and MS-DOS-based programs that try to run in MS-DOS (real) mode, like Partition Magic and Drive Copy, are failing.

The latest build includes Microsoft's recently introduced Windows Media Player 7 code as part of the base product.

WindowsMe is Microsoft's first purely consumer-focused version of Windows. It's the final Win9X-kernel-based Windows release, according to Microsoft, and the successor to Windows 98 and Windows 98SE.

In designing the upgrade, Microsoft originally sought to bolster the way the OS hosted digital media entertainment, gaming and home networking.

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

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