January 28, 2001, 11:31 AM — Though still whistling, Microsoft Corp.'s next desktop operating system is finally stepping out of the dark with this week's release of Whistler Beta 1 to a limited group of developers and hardware vendors.
The successor to both its consumer-oriented Windows Millennium Edition and business-strength Windows 2000 operating systems, Whistler is due on store shelves in the second half of 2001. But Windows 95 stalwarts beware: you won't be able to simply upgrade Windows 95 machines to Whistler.
The OS evolution continues
Whistler's official name is still a mystery -- Windows.Net and Windows 2001 are the most likely candidates. But Microsoft confirms it will ship two editions: Personal, for home users and Professional for businesses. What's more, the Personal edition will come with default interface settings and themes -- a look and feel -- that's differs from Professional. Server and Embedded versions will follow.
Microsoft is working to make both editions more widely compatible with games and devices from the start, unlike the Windows 2000 misstep. (Microsoft has released several updates to Windows 2000 since shipping the OS in February, to make it more compatible with certain existing applications, mostly games). The same team that created those updates is working to make Whistler even more compatible.
Despite that work, Whistler is conspicuously incompatible with one popular bit of software: Windows 95. You won't be able to upgrade, although you can wipe your PC clean and install Whistler from scratch if your system can handle it. Microsoft claims most PCs still running Windows 95 are unlikely to be up to Whistler's processor and memory requirements, which are likely to exceed those of Windows 2000.
For Windows 2000, Microsoft recommends a 300-MHz Pentium II processor (233 MHz for notebooks) with 64MB of memory. Whistler is intended to support 64MB systems, but 128MB of memory is recommended.
Checking it out
On a quick look, this first beta appears to be more stable than the preliminary version of several months ago.
However, Beta 1 is still nine-tenths evolution, melding Windows Me's novice-oriented add-ons with Windows 2000's more stable and secure operating system core, file system, and administrative tools. There's still room for a little revolution -- Microsoft says Whistler's final function set won't be complete until Beta 2, and details of its interface won't solidify until post-Beta release candidate versions.