It's probably not news that Whistler will be the first version of Windows to combine the reliability and availability of Windows 2000 with the compatibility of Windows 9x/Me. But with this inevitable consolidation of Microsoft's desktop OS products comes a dilemma: Consumers expect Windows, regardless of its heritage, to be compatible with their hardware and software. And business users want it to run reliably, without reboots. So Microsoft's task with Whistler is to please both camps, while finally moving consumers up to the type of reliability that has eluded them with Windows 9x for so long. So Whistler lead product manager Greg Sullivan tells me that the first beta release of Whistler will focus solely on these issues, leaving the final feature set of the product for the next milestone.
"It's too soon to map out any specific new features in Whistler," Sullivan said. "We've brought the foundation of Windows 2000 forward and now we're testing, in Beta one, the compatibility of software and hardware devices. The key here is feedback from the testers regarding compatibility."
Sullivan notes that Whistler will be a major upgrade for consumers, though business users will see evolutionary improvements. "Consumers care a great deal about the compatibility of devices and software," Sullivan says. "They also care about reliability and dependability. The goal with Whistler is to give them both. The goal is for everything to work." And because the consumer Windows products have been on a different release schedule than the business products, the planned phased rollout of Whistler makes sense: The Personal and Professional editions of Whistler will ship months before the Server editions, he says, though both are due in the second half of 2001. "Our consumer and business OSes are on a different schedule," Sullivan notes, "and Whistler will be no different. Consumer OSes are generally released more frequently. Server is on a different deployment schedule."
Whistler will also be the first Microsoft operating system release to include any link to .NET, Microsoft's strategy for a future of subscription-based software services. Sullivan agrees that Whistler is a stepping-stone to the future, but wouldn't elaborate on the .NET features we're likely to see in this release. "It's too soon to say which .NET features we'll see specifically, but Whistler will be a step in the direction toward .NET," Sullivan said.
On a related note, I've received many concerned emails from readers who were accepted into the Whistler beta, but have not since heard from Microsoft. With the release of Beta 1, they were expecting to begin testing, and receive download and newsgroup access. I talked to Microsoft about Whistler before these questions came to light, but I've got the query in now and hope to hear back on your status as soon as possible