Millennium to do music, photography and online

Microsoft Corp. plans to more tightly integrate digital music, digital photography and online services into the Windows operating system for home-computer users.

The move continues its practice of absorbing once-separate software products into Windows, an issue that is at the heart of its federal antitrust trial. Microsoft is expected to announce next week that it has delivered the first batch of early programming code for the next version of Windows, code-named Millennium, to some PC manufacturers and other testers. The finished product, the successor to Windows 98, is expected to be released next year, the company said.

One of the major goals for Millennium is to make it easier for users to play, view and store the digital music that is increasingly available online, and to scan, send and receive digital photographs, said Shawn Sanford, group product manager for Microsoft's Consumer Windows Division.

Earlier versions of Windows have included some of that technology, but many consumers have bypassed the features in favour of separate software from competitors such as RealNetworks Inc. which holds a wide lead in the market for technology for receiving audio and video on the Web.

Mr. Sanford said the new version of Windows will also make it easier for consumers to connect to the Web and to locate sites, as well as to use filters to shield minors from undesirable content. Competitors such as America Online Inc. have long objected to any attempt by Microsoft to more closely link Windows with its online service, Microsoft Network. Mr. Sanford didn't provide details about whether Microsoft plans to pursue such integration with Millennium.

Microsoft's practice of integrating new features into Windows is at the centre of the federal antitrust suit against the company pending in Washington, D.C., which was sparked by Microsoft's integration of a Web browser into Windows. The government charged the move was intended to undermine Netscape Communications Corp., which has since been acquired by AOL. Microsoft says such integration is part of the natural evolution of the operating system and that attempts to block it would stifle innovation.

The new operating system will also include additional technology for home networking, allowing families with multiple computers to share files and Internet connections, and to link other digital devices to the PC. Mr. Sanford said Microsoft has also made progress toward its goal of "It Just Works," a simplicity initiative to make PCs as reliable and simple as other consumer-electronics products.

Millennium is expected to be the first product from the Consumer Windows Group, which was created in a reorganisation earlier this year. The division is separate from the group working on Windows 2000, the long-delayed successor to the more powerful Windows NT operating system for businesses, which is expected to be released by the end of this year.