Whistler Beta 1 heads to MSDN, new testers

Microsoft issued Whistler Professional Edition to MSDN Universal and Professional subscribers Monday, finally giving access to the business-oriented client version of the next version of Windows 2000 to hundreds of thousands of testers. Interestingly, the MSDN release includes both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of only the Professional Edition, along with debug versions of the software and customer support diagnostics. As for testers who had been accepted into the Whistler beta but haven't heard back from the company since, you should have only a few more days of waiting: An email mailing list snafu has delayed the Beta 1 invites, which should be going out this week. Whistler beta testers have access to the full range of Whistler products, including Personal, Professional, Server, and Advanced Server Editions, most of which are available in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions.

The wide release of the first Whistler beta is no surprise to those who have seen it: Whistler Beta 1 is rock-solid, with impressive gains in simplicity and usability. For the client-side, Microsoft is now offering two editions, Personal and Professional, which are geared toward the consumer and business desktop markets respectively. Whistler Personal is an upgrade for Windows 9x/Me, offering the same functionality from Windows Me--including bundled applications like Windows Movie Maker and Windows Media Player 7--while upgrading them to the reliability and stability of the Windows 2000 platform, on which Whistler is built. Whistler Professional is a superset of Whistler Personal, adding support for two processors, roaming network profiles, and other business-oriented features, as well as a 64-bit edition for Intel Itanium processors. Both Personal and Professional editions include OS emulation modes that allow them to fool older applications into thinking that they are Windows 95, for better backwards compatibility.

But the most obvious change in Whistler is the new user interface, which is wisely optional, giving Windows the first major change to its look and feel since Windows 95. Two new user interface changes dominate, the new Simple Start Menu and Themes. The Simple Start Menu, previously known as the Start Panel, replaces the old Start Menu from Windows 2000/Me with a Taskpad-based window that makes it easier to access frequently used tasks. For example, applications that you run most often appear at the top of the Start Menu. Meanwhile, Whistler's Themes allow you to change virtually every element of the Whistler user interface. Whistler Beta 1 ships with one theme, called Professional, which flattens out the Windows user interface, rolling back five years of 3D work, though I'd expect that we'll see other themes by the time Whistler ships in mid-2001. Users that don't like the new theme or Start Menu can revert back to the classic versions, Microsoft says.

I've been evaluating Whistler Beta 1 since last week and hope to publish what is shaping up to be a massive review by the end of the week, so stay tuned to the Windows SuperSite. Thanks to Jason Oliver and everyone else that tipped me off to the MSDN release of Whistler. And happy birthday, James. :

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