Microsoft releases Windows Me RC1, near-final IE 5.5

Microsoft Corporation signed off on Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me) Release Candidate 1 (RC1) Tuesday, two weeks after the release of RC0. If the product continues with this nicely timed schedule, the final "RTM" release will hit on June 13th as planned and Windows Me will begin appearing with new PCs and on retail store shelves in late July. In a note to beta testers, the company said that Windows Me RC1 would be the first of many release candidate builds that will appear over the next few weeks as the product inches closer to completion. And at this point in the Windows Me's development, Microsoft is only looking for "show stopper" bugs and regressions from prior Windows releases.

"The world is clamoring for \[Windows Me\]," the company told testers this week. "Let us know the crucial stuff so we can ship a great product in time for this holiday season!" Microsoft is referring to Christmas 2000 here: PC makers will need to make purchases this summer for the product to ship on new PCs this Christmas. Also, the crucial back-to-school season requires the product to be on store shelves by August at the latest. (On a personal note, it's hard to understand how the world could be clamoring for Windows Me: I've done more to promote Windows Me over the past 6 months than Microsoft has, for example. To this day, there is virtually no public information about Windows Me on the Microsoft Web site for some reason.)

As the final product in the Windows 9x line, Windows Me will upgrade over any version of Windows 95 or Windows 98, but the vast majority of Windows Me installations will come from machine bundles. As such, Microsoft has improved the "Out Of Box Experience" (OOBE) for new users by providing a handholding walkthrough the first time that the machine is run. And not surprisingly, I've got an exclusive sneak-peek at the Windows Me OOBE on the SuperSite for Windows. Windows Me RC1 also adds a number of small improvements over RC0, including bug fixes, a slightly newer version of Media Player, and a new "Welcome to Windows" demo that the company previously had planned to omit.

Microsoft also quietly released a new beta of Internet Explorer 5.5 to beta testers Tuesday, which should come as no surprise when one considers that Windows Me will include the final version of IE 5.5. Expect IE 5.5 to be finalized sometime in the next week: The planned completion date is May 26, 2000. IE 5.5 offers only minor improvements over previous editions for the end user, but adds a number of Web and software developer-oriented improvements that are vital to Windows Me. The company will offer IE 5.5 from its Web site for free for users of Windows 9x, NT 4.0, and Windows 2000

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