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-- by Jim Forbes
Although you won't see Microsoft hosting a splashy, Windows 95-style operating-system rollout anytime soon, the company may be in the midst of its most aggressive OS push ever. Windows CE (the hand-held version), prerelease versions of Windows NT 5.0 and new Internet browser technology are all flowing down the technology pipeline, and you'll start to see the results soon.
Microsoft began distributing early Windows NT 5.0 versions at a conference in November. Though not expected to ship until mid-1997, the high-end operating system will eventually include directory and other services that make it easier for corporations to administer NT-based networks and monitor usage. These and other features will help position NT as the primary OS for corporate sites.
Less than two weeks after the peek at NT 5.0, the company launched Windows CE. Based on a portion of the Windows 95 API, this stripped-down product allows you to synchronize data on your hand-held with corresponding files on your PC. It differs from other Microsoft operating systems in that it executes from ROM.
The next OS product introduction will be Internet Explorer 4.0. Scheduled to ship early this year, IE 4.0 departs significantly from previous versions of Microsoft's browser. Expected to soon be made available as a free download, the IE 4.0 beta supports Active Desktop, which allows you to receive information broadcast over the Internet. It can also be used as a replacement for Windows 95's Explorer. Other features provide tools you need to set up an intranet.
But the capstone in Microsoft's rollout schedule will be the next member of the Windows 9x family, which some executives refer to as Windows 97. Microsoft CEO Bill Gates has said that the company will release the product in 1997, and that it will incorporate IE 4.0 and other technologies that eliminate the need for a separate browser. Other enhancements include Active Desktop support, improved Plug-and-Play routines, support for ActiveX and 3-D displays. Sources hint that Windows 9x will be out in summer-right around the time Windows NT 5.0 is due.
There might be another OS rollout in 1997-Windows CE 2.0. Expected late this year, it will include features that support new modem technologies, enhancements to the browser supplied with Windows CE and drivers for color screens to be used on next-generation hand-helds.