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2000: It might sound like the successor to 95 and 98, but it's meant for networked PCs. Don't worry, yours is coming.

February 21, 2000|By David Hayes | David Hayes,Knight Ridder/Tribune

Most of us shouldn't even consider loading Windows 2000 onto our home computers. Nevertheless, Microsoft Corp. appears to have a hit on its hands.

Early reviews of Microsoft's latest, business-oriented software system have been almost positive.

"We can summarize Windows 2000's most attractive new feature in three words: It doesn't crash," said Ed Bott, who reviewed the software for PC/Computing magazine.

Windows 2000 has been shipping on some desktop and server computers ordered by corporate clients for more than a month. Microsoft formally launched the software during a publicity event Thursday morning in San Francisco.

Windows 2000 is the "follow-on" to Windows NT, an operating system designed for computers on a network. The software makes minor cosmetic changes in the operating system but makes substantial changes in back-end systems used to administer computer networks.

"We've really been trying to get the message out that Windows 2000 is for business use," said Keith White, marketing director of the company's Windows product line.

The issue has confused consumers because the name -- Windows 2000 -- makes it seem a natural upgrade to the popular Windows 95 and Windows 98 operating systems.

It's not.

Instead, Microsoft is testing a new operating system for consumers. The company announced Tuesday that the system, originally called Millennium, would be called Microsoft Windows ME. The initials stand for Millennium Edition.

Microsoft had planned to launch Windows ME during its fourth fiscal quarter, which ends in June. However, industry experts said testing wasn't far enough along for a June launch. It's unlikely consumers will see the product on store shelves before mid-September.

Windows 2000 isn't simply an operating system for desktop PCs. It's a series of applications that offers more improvements for the system administrators who make computer networks run smoothly.

The product builds on the Microsoft NT platform. Testers say the software is more stable than NT. And it offers features that make some aspects of the software almost foolproof -- such as a feature that automatically replaces a key file deleted by a user by mistake.

The software's biggest immediate benefits are to business users who tote laptops. Windows 2000 includes several power-saving features that extend a laptop's battery life.

So why won't it work for consumers at home?

To reduce the number of crashes, Windows NT and Windows 2000 use a system that restricts what add-on software can do. Windows 2000 blocks software from directly accessing a computer's hardware, which in turn reduces the potential for a conflict and crash.

But some home software products, most notably some computer games, work by occasionally sidestepping the operating system, usually to directly access the computer's sound or video card. Windows 2000 won't allow that.

Despite its improvements, Windows 2000 is far from bug-free. Smart Reseller, an industry trade magazine, cited an internal Microsoft memo acknowledging that the software contained 63,000 known bugs.

Though that sounds like a lot, Microsoft insiders said Windows 95 had well in excess of 50,000 known bugs when it went on the market. And Windows 98 was so incomplete and problem-prone that Microsoft started selling a second edition last year -- even marketing the software to Windows 98 users at a reduced price.

Microsoft said the 63,000 number was taken out of context.

White said Windows 2000 had been tested by 750,000 users and security analysts for potential bugs. He said the 63,000 number came from a program that scanned the software and looked for possible improvements for later releases. It also included a scan of 10 million lines of code not in the final release, he said.

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