EXCLUSIVE: Windows Me RC1 due May 12, RTM on June 16 (updated)

UPDATE : Due to an embarrassing inability to perform simple date math, my original report misreported the dates for the RC1 and RTM releases of Windows Me. This version of the article has been modified to report the correct dates. --Paul

The schedule for Windows Millennium Edition ("Windows Me") was recently revised somewhat, pushing the final release back two weeks; this is the second such delay in recent weeks. According to internal Microsoft documents, the company's final product based on the old Windows 9x code-base will now hit the its first release candidate (RC1) build on May 12th and the final release has been knocked back one week to June 16th. "The Windows Millennium product is another in the evolution of consumer operating systems developed by Microsoft," the document reads, "and it delivers clear customer value by focusing in on a few feature areas."

Indeed, Windows Me was discussed at WinHEC this week as well, and the message was clear: This release marks the end of Windows 98. "Let me say it clearly for you: Windows Millennium Edition is the last full release of an operating system product from Microsoft that's based on the Windows 98 code base," said Microsoft VP Carl Stork. "So that will be the important product this Christmas, but next year the consumer segment is going to start to move in full momentum to using the Windows 2000-based technology."

Windows Me will be sold primarily as a bundle on new machine purchases, but Microsoft says that it is also a "no brainer" upgrade for users that:

  • take digital pictures and want to share them with people
  • spend time on the internet
  • have multiple PCs at home
  • want to take advantage of the latest hardware advancements in PCs
  • want to have a more supportable, more quickly available PC
Windows Me addresses these users with a number of features, including tight integration with digital cameras and scanners, integrated Web browser and other Internet client applications such as Outlook Express, NetMeeting 3.1, and Windows Media Player 7.0, home networking wizard and Internet Connection Sharing, and more. And because of the removal of Real Mode DOS, Windows Me starts up and shuts down more quickly than ever. "The feature set for Windows Millennium focuses on advances in the realm of digital entertainment, so improvements in the audio area, the new Windows Media Player, digital rights management, connectivity to personal audio devices," Stork said this week. "Also, advances in the area of digital photography, and scanning, with support for the Windows image acquisition, the My Pictures folders and the like. Improvements in the user experience, including things like system file protection, support automation, a better help system, \[and\] auto updating."

According to the company, people that use Windows Me will:

  • spend more time on the internet
  • have more PCs in the home and share more information between them
  • play more music on their PCs and store more pictures
  • spend more time playing games locally or on the internet
  • spend less time on a support line or waiting for the system to boot
"Windows Millennium Edition has full support for legacy-free systems, so dependencies on things like the BIOS and super IO are removed, and you can now ship a full legacy-free system that works with Windows Millennium," Stork said. "We're making continued improvements in what we call the out-of-box experience, that is the first 10 or 15 minutes that end users have with their PCs, so that they get up and running in a satisfying and quick way."

What Windows Me won't include when it ships is native support for Intel SpeedStep ("Geyserville") processors, Intel's "Willamette" upgrade to the aging Pentium III line (which will ship this fall), native mode IDE, bootable "Firewire" 1394 devices, ACPI swappable bay devices, parental controls for Internet gaming, or system migration features. Instead, these features will be supported in the next consumer release, code-named "Whistler," which is now due on April 15, 2001, according to another internal document. Microsoft has entered into a rapid-fire release cycle for Windows, eschewing the monolithic development times that kept Windows 2000 in the oven for over three years. So Whistler will be a small upgrade, or "point release," to Windows 2000, but it will feature a number of simplicity and ease-of-use improvements that should please consumers as well as business users. It will also include COM+ 2.0, the base of Microsoft's platform for Next Generation Windows Services (NGWS); COM+ 2.0 Beta 1 is expected soon.

When Windows Me goes gold, I'll post a full write-up to the Windows SuperSite. In the meantime, you can read my exhaustive review of Windows Me Beta 3 if you'd like to learn more about this release

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