With development work over, Microsoft has sent its next edition of Windows off to the manufacturing plant with retail availability set for September 14.
Designed specifically for the home user, Windows Millennium Edition operating system - or Windows ME - offers improvements in features for PC health, digital media, home networking and online experience.
Microsoft reports its estimated retail price will remain the same as Windows 98 at $380 (inc GST) for the full-package product and $206 (inc GST) for a version upgrade.
The company has already begun showcasing the key features of the system, aimed squarely at providing new users with a "memorable PC experience", according to the company.
The release mirrors a growing trend away from the traditional PC and towards multimedia appliances, with many of the newly integrated features focusing on the Internet and entertainment.
"Many of the new features of Windows ME have been driven by customer feedback," said Microsoft's consumer Windows product manager, Paul Roworth.
Microsoft is keen to point out that the system is not to be confused with Windows 2000, which is designed for business customers. ME is designed as the successor to the Windows 95 and 98 operating systems and, as such, many of the operating features have been purposefully secreted away in the system, to prevent unskilled users from unwittingly causing problems.
"Some 800 system files are protected to provide a higher level of stability. So even if a user deletes these files, they simply pop back up on the system later on," Roworth explained.
Many of the windows also mask the more complicated files and folders of the system, to steer users away from potential problems.
The Millennium Edition also includes a support framework that allows PC manufacturers to integrate their support offerings into the system's help files as well as a system restore facility where users can "roll back" their PC to a working state in the event of a crash.
Other tweaks to the system include the use of adaptive menus, an automatic program update facility, and hibernation support, giving users the option of suspending their PC rather than shutting down entirely. The startup sequence has been streamlined to make it faster.
Windows has also instigated a driver signing program with hardware vendors whereby drivers are tested and certified to run with the system.
"We are trying to raise the bar within the industry because drivers do have such a dramatic effect on the operating system experience," Roworth said.
On the multimedia side, Microsoft uses its Windows Image Acquisition (WIA) technology to bridge the divide between operating system and digital camera and scanner software. It has also bundled Windows Media Player 7 and Windows Movie Maker, which compresses video allowing users to store up to 20 hours of video on 1GB of hard disk space. The downside is that the WMV file format cannot be played on other video players.
Consumers will also be able to play games online and set up home networks more easily, Roworth said.