'Millennium' may not live up to name

Anyone for a 2GB service release? That's what you might get with Microsoft's next consumer Windows.

Microsoft's consumer Windows offering due out next year, code-named Millennium, may end up as little more than a minor operating system update.

Millennium Beta 1 is due to go to beta testers this week, according to sources.

The software maker has backed away from plans to add features, such as a new user interface and Activity Centres -- groupings of tools related to a specific task, such as digital photo editing or music production. So, it's is unlikely to be the monumental Windows release that its code name implies.

Not only will Millennium likely be a fairly minor upgrade, but it also may end up being packaged only as an OEM Service Release (OSR) refresh, according to sources close to the company. Service releases are nothing new. Microsoft, for example, issued two service release updates to its Windows 95 operating system before it released Windows 98.

If Millennium is relegated to service-release status, it will be available only as a preload on new systems -- and possibly also as a set of downloadable fixes and patches. It would not be available at retail as a shrink-wrapped product, as was originally expected.

The decision to downplay Millennium is a recent one, sources say. Microsoft, for example, briefed system makers on the operating system in August, including the plans for the new user interface and Activity Centres. Originally, Microsoft was planning to push Millennium as a full-fledged Windows upgrade due by September 1999, said testers connected with BetaNews.Com.

Plans to add a new user interface, called Desktop Version 2, and new task-oriented, Activity Centres have all been scrubbed, according to Microsoft officials. Activity Centres "won't be a focus for Millennium, but are part of Microsoft's longer-range consumer OS plans," said a corporate spokeswoman. "It's too early to say how they'll be implemented, but I can say that you won't see them in Millennium, nor will you see a brand-new UI," she said.

Microsoft officials also declined to be more specific on packaging and positioning decisions the company is making around Millennium. "We have made no decisions yet on how we will deliver Millennium," says Art Pettigrue, Consumer Windows Division product manager. "The product is still in early development."

Pettigrue also declined to comment on the extent to which Microsoft will make Millennium "legacy-free" in terms of hiding, if not eliminating, some or all of the DOS that's embedded in Windows.

While Pettigrue wouldn't offer more insight into the design of Millennium, the operating system will address the same four basic areas as Windows 98 Second Edition. Those areas include home networking, simplifying Internet access, improving PC health and making digital media easier to work with.

One early Millennium beta tester reports that the operating system is stable but bloated, taking up almost 2GB of space. "If you want to know what Millennium looks like, just load up your copy of Windows 2000 and it looks pretty much the same," the tester said.