Programming Windows: Whistler and Blackcomb (Premium)

Microsoft released new Windows versions at a torrid pace in the late 1990s, with two major releases---Windows 2000 and Windows Millennium Edition (Me)---arriving back-to-back in the year 2000. But the software giant had even bigger plans for the near future, with two major Windows releases, codenamed Whistler and Blackcomb respectively, that would usher in the .NET era and rebrand Windows to Windows.NET.

That wasn’t the original plan. As the 1990s ended, Microsoft was working to consolidate its NT- and MS-DOS-based versions of Windows into a single product line that combined the reliability and security of the former with the compatibility of the latter. But the technological merger kept getting pushed back. The original target was Windows 2000, which started life as Windows NT 5.0, a release that Microsoft wanted to be a “superset” of Windows 98 and Windows NT 4.0.

When that proved impossible, Microsoft hastily improvised a final DOS-based Windows release, Windows Me, that would include some of the end-user features Microsoft had planned the canceled Windows 2000 Personal edition. This bought Microsoft some time and it gave PC makers a new Windows version to market for the holiday 2000 selling season.

More importantly, Windows Me provided Microsoft with a relatively small and safe public testing base for emerging technologies like Activity Centers, System Restore, System File Protection, Automatic Updates, Windows Image Acquisition (WIA) for cameras and scanners, support for the hibernation power management state, a new networking stack, Universal Plug and Play (UPnP), and much more. Windows Me also hid—but did not remove—access to Real Mode MS-DOS for the first time, prepping the userbase for the DOS-less future to come.

With Windows 2000 and Windows Me still in development, Microsoft planned a second release of Windows 2000 for the year 2001 that would come in both consumer (Neptune) and business (Odyssey) versions. A single leaked Neptune build showed something very similar to Windows Me, but with the NT/2000 underpinnings. And I don’t believe that Odyssey ever leaked, not that it mattered: by the time Microsoft was finalizing the development of Windows 2000 and Me, it had canceled Neptune and Odyssey, and I was the first to report this change, in January 2000.

“Microsoft has canceled the previously separate ‘Neptune’ and ‘Odyssey’ projects,” I wrote in the January 21, 2000 issue of WinInfo Short Takes, “melding the two into a cohesive strategy for the future of Windows 2000. ‘Neptune,’ as you may know, was to be the next consumer version of Windows after Millennium, and the first to be based on Windows 2000. And ‘Odyssey’ was the previous codename for the next version of Windows 2000 for businesses. My sources tell me that the consumer version of Neptune became a black hole when all the features that were cut from Millennium (Windows 98 Third Edition, due this summer) were simply re-tag...

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