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Glimpses into future Windows

Microsoft releases its final version of IE 5.5 as its chairman unveils details on the upcoming versions of Windows
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates provided insight into the next two Windows releases, and announced an alpha preview of 64-bit Windows 2000 and the final release of Microsoft's Internet Explorer 5.5 on Wednesday.

Microsoft made IE 5.5 available for download from its Windows Update and IE download sites.

Gates made the announcements during his keynote speech at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) here.

Gates opened his keynote by taking a swipe at archrival Oracle. Two weeks ago, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison admitted he had hired a private detective agency to disclose Microsoft's connections with several lobbying groups working on Microsoft's behalf in its antitrust case. The agency offered to pay cash for at least one lobbying group's trash.

Gates joked that it's usually difficult to get the press to write about programming techniques typically discussed at the PDC, such as garbage collection. "But Oracle solved that for us," Gates said. "They gave us the perfect distinction between how they do garbage collection and how we do it."

But what attendees really wanted to hear about was the future of Windows software and the company's just-unveiled .Net initiative, and Gates delivered more specifics.

"The next two releases of Windows is where you'll see .Net built into the user interfaces," Gates told the estimated 6,000 developers attending the company's eighth annual PDC.

The successor to Windows 2000, code-named Whistler, is due during the second half of 2001, several months later than Microsoft had anticipated at the start of this year. "Blackcomb," the successor to Whistler, is due out in the second half of 2002. In both releases, the Internet Explorer browser will become more fully integrated and more central, Gates said.

Whistler, a pre-alpha build of which Microsoft is demonstrating on the PDC show floor, will offer developers and customers a first taste of how Microsoft is incorporating its .Net technologies into its system software. Gates told attendees that Whistler will allow users to save files out to a "Microsoft community site" on the Internet. Whistler will also include technology that will allow users to create a single personalized identity, which they will be able to authenticate across Web sites.

In the exhibit hall, Microsoft officials put through its paces a recent internal Whistler Professional build -- a release that looked almost identical to Windows 2000. Microsoft officials showed off how the company is evolving its Control Panel to make it more intuitive for users to undertake tasks (like changing wallpaper, for example), but denied that Microsoft will go all the way and make task-oriented Activity Centers part of the final Whistler release.

Officials also said not to expect Microsoft to provide any speech capabilities beyond its speech application programming interface (SAPI) in Whistler. Instead, it plans to provide hooks for developers interested in adding speech.

Blackcomb will be the first fully .Net-enabled Windows release from Microsoft, and the version of Windows that will include "the most profound changes in the UI (user interface)," Gates told PDC attendees.

Blackcomb will be the Windows release where Microsoft will incorporate the "type in-line" feature, which Microsoft first demonstrated at its .Net Forum 2000 rollout in late June. Type in-line is a natural-language interface that will allow users to more quickly and centrally search the Web, access documents and answer simple questions.

Blackcomb will also include technology Gates called a "system information agent" that will allow users to set notification and customization rules. A user would be able to determine when and how often to be interrupted by mail or instant messaging, for example.

"You'll be back in control," Gates told attendees. Gates also talked up a number of new products that Microsoft has in beta test, ranging from Exchange Server 2000 to BizTalk Server 2000.

"You can see the impact XML is having on every one of these products," Gates said. "It's about the new generation of software." Microsoft's PDC runs through Friday.

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