Windows 98 second edition?

Microsoft Corp.'s forthcoming Windows 98 refresh will be more than just a routine point-release update to the operating system.

The Service Release -- which has evolved into a combination of Microsoft's planned Windows 98 Service Pack, plus its expected Windows 98 OEM Service Release -- is now being called Windows 98 Second Edition, sources said.

Whether Microsoft will end up selling Windows 98 Second Edition at retail is not certain, but some OEMs say they expect Microsoft to do so. If Microsoft does sell the service release, this will be a marked change in the company's service release strategy. With Windows 95, Microsoft did not offer the two OEM service release updates to retail customers; it made them available only preloaded on new PC systems. A Microsoft spokeswoman said it was too early to say whether or not Microsoft will offer Windows 98 Second Edition as a retail product. She also declined to comment on whether or not Microsoft is using or will retain the Windows 98 Second Edition as the final name of the product.

Windows 98 Second Edition will be the first of what could be several Windows 9x-kernel-based updates to Windows 98 before Microsoft delivers its first NT-kernel-based consumer Windows release, code-named Neptune. Until recently, Microsoft had said it planned to move directly from Windows 98 to an NT kernel-based consumer operating system. The Microsoft spokeswoman denied that Microsoft's decision to field one or more Windows 9x-based update to Windows 98 was a departure in strategy. "We have said we will continue to keep the 9x line updated for as long as customers need it," she says.

At Local Media Day in Redmond last week, Microsoft Windows marketing director Yusuf Mehdi acknowledged Microsoft is still evaluating how and if to release Win9x updates to Windows 98 beyond Windows 98 Second Edition. But sources have said Microsoft already is preparing another Windows 9x-kernel-based update beyond Windows 98 Second Edition, tentatively called Windows 2000 Personal Edition, which it will likely release some time before 2003.

Microsoft introduced the Windows 98 Second Edition name along with Interim Build 2162 of the second beta of the Service Release within the past few days. The build is the first widely released beta version since beta 2 late last month, sources said.

The Redmond, software developer confirmed that the latest version of the Windows 98 update adds a number of new features, ranging from Internet Explorer 5.0, slated to ship this week, to a new version of Dial-Up Networking and added support for universal serial bus modems. The release of the final version of the update, however, remains a moving target. Sources had said it would be available in the first quarter, ending this month. However, it now looks like it will not ship until the second quarter.

"Microsoft used Q1 as a goal -- Beta tester feedback was telling for the [Service release] was getting very bulky, so we went back to figure out a new way to have users test it. Of course that takes time," said a Microsoft spokesperson.