With no firm plans to release the promised consumer version of Windows NT, Microsoft will issue service packs and updates for Windows 98 for the foreseeable future.
Microsoft's stated goal has been to phase out the consumer-oriented Windows 9x operating system line in favour of the sturdier NT kernel. It has not publicly stated when the "consumer NT" will be available, except to say that it will come well after Windows 2000 -- formerly called NT 5.0 -- ships.
But as Windows 2000's ship date has slipped into 2000, the timetable for a consumer version apparently has slipped, too.
"We are going to the NT kernel [with Windows 98] as quickly as we can, but there are a lot of factors involved in that," said Rob Bennett, a Windows product manager at Microsoft. "There is a lot of motivation to get there. It is a better kernel, more robust, and more reliable. But at the same time, we are sensitive to where the market is."
"The plan is to make the next major version of Windows on the consumer side based on NT's kernel," Bennett said. "That's still what we want to be working toward. Still, we have to balance that with what customers want us to do."
"We haven't decided on a firm plan either way," Bennett added.
Bennett said press reports indicating that Microsoft would release a full-blown upgrade of Windows 98 -- which was released last June -- were erroneous.
Currently, Microsoft is developing Service Pack 1 for Windows 98, and a corresponding OEM Service Release (OSR) for OEMs. Those two items are expected to be available in the second quarter.
"Windows 98 will be around for at least five more years, most likely on OSR 2.0 or OSR 2.5 by then," said one Windows beta tester who requested anonymity. "Indeed, there are plenty of Windows 95 installs all over the place."
One analyst said the NT-based consumer OS will appear within six months of Windows 2000.
"It's not rocket science to port NT to the consumer desktop," said Chris LeTocq, director of software consulting at Dataquest, in San Jose, California. "Although Windows 98 has some good features in it from a robustness standpoint -- and what that means is less consumer frustration -- Windows NT is a better way to go."