Microsoft hones look of Windows

It's not a radical change, but Microsoft is clearly altering the look of Windows. One modification: New drop-down menus

Microsoft may still be more than a month away from releasing the first beta build of its Windows 2000 successor. But the latest alpha build of "Whistler" shows how Microsoft is changing the look and feel of Windows.

Microsoft posted to its private Web tester site late last week build 2257 of Whistler, the second developers' preview. The company posted the first, build 2250, in mid-July.

Build 2257 demonstrates how Microsoft is changing the look and feel of Windows via new drop-down menus, similar to the ones it is building into its next version of Office, codenamed Office 10.

According to sources, other user interface changes in Whistler include the following:

  • A changeable interface that gives users a choice of a Personal or Classic Start Menu. The menu lets users show or hide elements such as their Web browsers, email programs, most recently selected documents and network connections, as well as their My Computer and My Network Places icons

  • A task-oriented metaphor that lets users organise their user interface around "task centres" instead of applications.

One tester said that Microsoft is incorporating a text-to-speech interface capability as a default feature. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has talked up both voice recognition and text-to-speech as two of Microsoft's favoured person-machine interfaces. Gates has predicted that PCs in the not-to-distant future will include built-in microphones.

Microsoft has said it plans to ship Whistler commercially in the second half of 2001, several months later than the company originally anticipated.

A first Whistler beta is due out in October, according to Microsoft officials. The next major Windows release, codenamed Blackcomb, isn't due out until the second half of 2002.

Whistler is expected to be a fairly minor update to Windows 2000, but will be available in a host of flavors, ranging from the 32-bit Personal Server, to 32 and 64-bit Professional and Advanced Server. Unlike Windows Millennium Edition -- the consumer release of Windows due to ship in two weeks -- Whistler is built on top of the same NT kernel that Windows 2000 is. Windows ME is the last of Microsoft's Windows releases that is built on top of the legacy Windows 9X kernel.

One tester close to Microsoft, who requested anonymity, said that Microsoft already has told its own Windows development team that it has stopped accepting new features and feature changes for Whistler.

Microsoft declined to comment on the latest Whistler build, other than to say that 2257 "was distributed to testers last week as part of the normal development process", in the words of a company spokeswoman.

"At this point, Microsoft is still on track to deliver Whistler Beta 1 in October," she added.

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