It sounds like a PC user's Nirvana: an operating system that boasts both the stability and power of Windows 2000 Professional and the convenience and hardware compatibility of the Windows 9x series. Microsoft wants to put its users into this otherworldly state next year, fulfilling a long-time promise to merge its consumer- and network-orientated OSs into a best-of-both-worlds Windows.
Code-named Whistler, the new OS will be based on the Windows 2000 (formerly NT) core but will include all of the flashy new features in Me, notably its multimedia integration and PC Health safeguards.
But wait, there's more.
Microsoft believes that its customers want ready access to their data and to software, no matter where they are. In this brave new world of pervasive computing, the updates you make in your desktop address book would automatically and transparently appear in your cell phone/PDA hybrid, and your latest Excel spreadsheets would be accessible on any connected desktop or notebook that has permission to see them.
In June the company unveiled its plans for this vision, which it calls the Dot-Net platform. Full-blown functionality is still several years away, but Whistler - due by the end of 2001 - will be the first iteration of the client-side OS that the Dot-Net platform will require. It may go by another name, but Windows Group Product Manager Noury Bernard-Hasan say Whistler will be, in effect, "a first pass at Windows.net."
Initially, MSN - or MSN.net as it will be known in the new scheme of things - will enable the Dot-Net functionality in Windows.net. The OS will, for example, be integrated with Microsoft Passport for personal identity management; it will also integrate with MSN's calendering function so your desktop calendar will be available wherever you go. Windows.net will incorporate instant messaging and notification features. You'll be able to set rules for how you get messages, as well as for automatic software updates.
Eventually, Microsoft hopes to charge you some sort of subscription fee for this Windows-everywhere service, either directly or via a third party - an Internet Service Provider, for example. How soon this will happen is still up in the air.
Of course, all these features only matter if you're online. Still, between the long-awaited marriage of Windows 2000 Professional stability with Windows Me usability - not to mention a long-overdue interface update - and the Dot-Net features, the next iteration of Windows promises to be quite a change from existing versions. Whether it will be the first step on a stairway to computing heaven remains to be seen.