Windows closer to Millennium

Microsoft is serving up beta 2 editions of the successor to Windows 95/98 -- code-named Millennium, to testers in the closed beta program.

"For us, it's a checkpoint," says David Ursino, product manager. "One of the main goals of beta 2 is to get feedback and to refine glitches and gotchas."

New features include an Auto Update utility, enhancements to digital media and entertainment, home networking utilities, system file protection, auto help, automated system restoration, driver assigning, a hibernate function, and an ACPI device bay.

Because there's nothing worse than a sick PC, Microsoft's PC Health Initiative provides System File Protection, a Help Center, and a System Restore function. All are designed to assess the health of your desktop box and keep it operating at optimum capacity.

System File Protection protects you from yourself by preventing you from accidentally deleting things you need, Ursino says. The function restores files that are crucial to running the operating system, even after you've emptied the Recycle Bin.

Microsoft is still developing the Help Center with its partners. The centre will contain a library of resource materials on peripherals and software, so you can get vendor support within Millennium instead of picking up a manual.

Home networking functions are enhanced as well. Ursino says it's easier to set up shared resources and printers with the help of a new wizard.

Partner functions featured

On the digital media and entertainment side, Millennium will give users a number of new tools. It provides functions to organise your MP3 files, share Internet connections, and share images online, says Ursino. Plus, it will eventually offer a Windows utility that connects to Microsoft's hardware and software partners for technical assistance. But the company is still working with vendors, so that portion won't be included in beta 2.

The Auto Update feature will let you know when to download new versions of applications. And it can do so invisibly when you're online, Ursino says.

For gamers, Millennium frees up disk space by discarding parts of game files that aren't running.

The CD-ROM that contains the Millennium beta 2 also includes the beta version of Internet Explorer 5.5. Among its new features are the ability to preview the printed appearance of a Web page before you send the file to the printer.

While Millennium is filled with utilities to make your life on the PC easier, it is more a consumer operating system than ever -- few functions are truly user configurable.

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Alexandra Krasne

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