Though still whistling, Microsoft's next desktop operating system is finally stepping out of the dark with last 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.
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. Server and Embedded versions will follow.
Microsoft is working to make both editions more widely compatible with games and devices from the start.
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. Whistler is intended to support 64MB systems, but 128MB of memory is recommended.
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.
The Professional edition will let you dial into your office computer from home and take control of it remotely. The Personal edition won't offer that feature, but you can request help from a friend or relative and let them dial in and take control of your machine, chat, or upload files.
Whistler Personal edition will streamline the sophisticated security, user account, and log-in features available in Whistler Professional and its Windows 2000 and NT predecessors. It is designed to serve a variety of user interests. But whether Whistler really is to be the definitive Windows will remain unanswered until at least mid next year.