The first beta was posted today to a site reserved for select business partners and customers in addition to more than 200,000 software developers in an effort to gather feedback and allow for compatibility testing on the software, the company said.
The second beta of the software will be ready in the second quarter of next year, Microsoft said.
Whistler is Microsoft's latest attempt to further its .Net initiative and design operating systems that are more tightly integrated with both the Internet and the devices that connect to it. The software behemoth recently put out its Windows 2000 and Windows Me (Millennium Edition) systems, but now looks to advance the .Net plan.
Early peeks at the new operating system suggest that it will bring an improved level of user interaction, remote access capabilities and more advanced voice and handwriting capabilities. The software should also help Microsoft link its flagship operating system with its line of wireless devices, including phones and handhelds.
Microsoft stressed that this initial testing period of the beta should help promote compatibility of the product across varying types of hardware. The vendor also added that the Whistler beta stands as the first 64-bit version of Windows that will be ready for customers to evaluate on the 64-bit Intel Itanium-based systems.
Microsoft said it plans to phase in the releases of Whistler with the first version available for desktops and then the later release ready for servers. The company said both versions should be available by the second half of 2001.