Windows Millennium: Little Fanfare

Friday, August 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SEATTLE (AP) — Microsoft Corp. typically receives a jolt of revenues after upgrading its operating system for home users, but the release of Windows Millennium Edition on Sept. 14 is not expected to generate much of a surge.

A significant, if highly technical, detail about the release of Millennium Edition, or Windows ME, is that it represents the beginning of the end for Microsoft's 20-year-old operating system architecture.

By Microsoft's own admission, Windows ME isn't an upgrade on the scale of Windows 95 or 98. The company has done some fine tuning — adding a more streamlined error recovery system and speeding up the time it takes for Windows to start up. It has also added a suite of digital media systems, including digital music players and video editing.

Developing operating systems for personal computers makes up nearly half of Microsoft's total sales. Not to mention Microsoft saw a 26 percent jump in sales in the quarter after the launch of Windows 98, and a whopping 62 percent quarterly jump after Windows 95 launched.

However, similar to its predecessor, Windows 98, Windows ME isn't seen by industry observers as a ``must-have'' upgrade.

``Because this upgrade isn't being played up, there won't be as much of a spike,'' said Chris LeTocq, an industry analyst with Dataquest. ``But this is their last opportunity for a while to get at the upgrade market.''

Still, there are consumers who will purchase the upgrade just because it's an upgrade, despite the fact that the Windows Media Player technology — the most prominent Windows ME feature — is available for free downloading on Microsoft's Web site.

While the Microsoft Disk Operating System has been the foundation for Microsoft Corp. products since 1981, with the introduction of Windows Millennium Edition on Sept. 14 the software giant will have produced the last of its operating systems using the MS-DOS architecture.

``It's been a good ride,'' said Greg Sullivan, product manager for Windows marketing, ``but we need to focus on the future.''

Indeed, that future is busy. Microsoft is ramping up efforts to turn its software into Internet-based services — the Microsoft.NET initiative announced in June.

The next consumer version of Windows will be built on a new foundation, that of Windows 2000. The architecture of the Windows 2000 system, Windows NT, was built in the early 1990s for use in corporate environments. It's sturdier, crashes less, and is more flexible than the venerable DOS kernel.

Windows ME will be pre-installed on all new personal computers sold after its launch date and will be available on CD-ROM. Reviews of Millennium have not been glowing.

Reviewers reported a number of problems installing the new ME software. Some of the changes within the software code caused some reviewers' computers to crash, while some programs were crippled on others'.

For its part, Microsoft maintains that the compatibility problems are limited.

The successor to Windows Millennium, code named ``Whistler'' inside Microsoft, isn't due out until late 2001.