March 21, 1997 6:45 PM ET
Microsoft's IE 4.0 delay to set back Memphis by a month
By Norvin Leach and Lisa DiCarlo

  Microsoft Corp.'s delay in releasing the Internet Explorer 4.0 beta will set back the release of the beta version of Memphis by about a month.

Memphis, the code name for the next version of Windows 95, relies on technology in the forthcoming IE 4 that integrates the browser and the desktop.

But Microsoft was forced to delay the release of the IE 4.0 beta in order to fix bugs and security breaches.

The company originally planned to release a beta of Memphis to about 6,000 testers in the first quarter. But this week, product manager Phil Holden said Microsoft intended to release the the beta in the second quarter.

The schedule change, however, may be minor.

Sources indicated that Microsoft's current schedule calls for beta releases of both Memphis and Internet Explorer 4.0 at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference in San Francisco April 8.

Nonetheless, the final release date for Memphis -- which Microsoft is careful not to call Windows 97 -- remains vague.

Microsoft has told OEMs to expect the final Memphis code by December, at the latest. If that timetable holds, Memphis would not become available at retail until 1998.

More optimistic estimates within Microsoft suggest that the code could be released to manufacturing as early as the end of August. That would mean OEMs could get the code by September.

Whether OEMs get the code in September or December will depend on the success of the beta testing, and the coordination of development efforts between the internet client groups and the operating-system group.

The Personal and Business Systems Group, which handles operating systems, released an early beta of Memphis in December 1996. This beta included early versions of hardware drivers and some under-the-covers updates to Windows 95.

This early beta, however, did not include the long-promised integration of the browser and the desktop, called the Active Desktop. The Active Desktop is a feature of IE 4.0, and is the primary responsibility of the Applications and Internet Client Group.

A widespread beta of IE 4.0 was due this month, but bugs in a limited, private beta and questions about potential security breaches caused Microsoft to delay the release of that beta.

Another factor in the release schedule is the question of synchronizing operating-system releases.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and other high-level officials had stated last year that the release of Memphis and NT 5 would be synchronized, and that two products were not expected until late 1997 or early 1998.

Statements in presentations and market bulletins last fall indicate that Microsoft grew less confident in the late 1997 date, and did not expect to ship either operating system in volume until the first quarter of 1998.

According to sources, though, this did not sit well with the development teams for Memphis, since much of their code was ready earlier than the NT team's code. They have been pressing to release Memphis prior to NT 5.

Memphis may be the last incarnation of the Windows 95 line. Microsoft has been moving toward a merged NT/Windows 95 kernel, and a PowerPoint presentation recently posted on Microsoft's Web site fixes the release date of this merged kernel at 1999. This is the first time that Microsoft has publicly set a date for the merged kernel.

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