On Monday, July 26, Microsoft’s new Consumer Windows division unveiled the next generation of the consumer Windows OS meant to replace Windows 9x. At the same time, the company delivered preview code to 5000 developers to get early feedback on this project's features. Microsoft plans to release this new version, code-named Millennium, next year with a goal to “simplify the home computing experience.” Preview code is not a beta version of the product; rather, it's a demonstration of the software's capabilities and features. Millennium will include new tools for working with audio and video products, ease of use for handling digital music and photo, better Internet access, easier home network setup, and support for intelligent appliances. As the result of research and focus groups, Microsoft has identified four areas as key to improving the consumer experience. Digital Media and Entertainment. Exponential growth in Web-based music and digital photography will necessitate tools to take advantage of new content. The PC should be easier to use to access, play, view, and store content, and provide a more compelling PC gaming experience. Online Experience. For the online experience, Microsoft's goal is to let consumers more easily connect to the Web, locate desired content, and determine what content is acceptable for their families to view. Microsoft has promised better parental controls in Millennium. Home Networking. More than 15 million households own at least two computers, a percentage that industry analysts expect to rise dramatically over the next year. Many vendors have targeted home networking as a potentially lucrative market. Millennium will seek to simplify the process of connecting multiple computers to share information and an Internet connection, and will provide the infrastructure for connecting different intelligent devices to the PC. PC Simplicity: It Just Works. The goal of Millennium is to provide consumers with a more stable OS that just works from the minute they start their PCs and throughout their daily computing experience. The Consumer Windows division hopes to deliver self-healing functionality, a simpler setup, and out-of-the-box experience for new computer users. Although there has been dissension at Microsoft regarding a next version of the Win9x OS, Millennium is built on the Windows 98 kernel and not on the Windows NT or Windows 2000 kernel. However, Millennium appears to be the predecessor to the next generation of consumer Windows OS, code-named Neptune, which will be based on the NT kernel. We’ll hear “It Just Works” a lot in Microsoft's ads over the next year. Division vice president David Cole said that by using this slogan, Microsoft means that PCs and the applications that run on them should be as reliable as household appliances such as the telephone. Let’s hope those three little words ring true.