Saying the company had reached a "milestone" in development of the final version of its long-awaited Windows 2000 operating system, Microsoft officials announced last week the release of the beta 3 version of the OS.
More than 650,000 CDs of the operating system will be delivered to customers within three weeks, company officials said in a teleconference.
After several delays in getting the product out the door, the spotlight has increasingly focused on when Microsoft will deliver the final version of Windows 2000. However, officials refused to set a final release date for the operating system.
"There is nothing that tells us we won't be on target for release this year, but feedback (from customers) will determine that," said Brian Valentine, a vice president in Microsoft's Business Enterprise Division.
The testing arrangement will be the most elaborate in Microsoft history. More than 20 large corporations, including IBM, Lucent Technologies, Dell and Compaq have committed to using the beta product, officials said.
Despite the growing attention surrounding the final release of the operating system, Microsoft will not be rushed, said Deborah Willingham, a vice president of Microsoft's Business Enterprise Division. "Reliability is the top priority on our customer list," Willingham said.
Nonetheless, the Windows 2000 Beta 3 "is a key milestone in to getting to our final release," she said.
Microsoft will charge $US59.95 for copies of the Windows 2000 beta.
There are several versions of Windows 2000. For desktop applications, the Windows 2000 Professional beta will improve on Windows NT Workstation 4.0 by simplifying use, improving security and adding hardware support, said Jonathan Perera, Windows 2000 product manager.
Beta versions of Windows 2000 Server and Advanced Server will offer more reliability and manageability, allowing better Internet access, Perera said. As planned, the Windows 2000 Data Center Server beta will not be released until later this year.