Invites Sent as Longhorn Beta 1 Nears

Microsoft sent invites to a small number of testers over the weekend, announcing the imminent arrival of the much-anticipated first beta release of Longhorn. Beta 1 will be available for download in the coming weeks, giving users the first real look at the next-generation Windows release.

The release of Beta 1 is arguably the first major milestone in Microsoft's Longhorn vision, which also entails upcoming releases of its server products and Office System. Longhorn Server is expected to reach beta alongside the client release - a first for Microsoft.

But reaching beta status has not been easy for the Redmond company. The new operating system has been fraught with delays over the past three years and a final release is not expected until late 2006 - over 5 years after the debut of Windows XP.

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Screenshots of Longhorn build 5203 were already circling the Internet Monday, although it's not clear if the images were in fact from Beta 1. The shots show a much more refined interface over what was showcased by Microsoft at WinHEC in April, with Avalon user interface elements clearly present.

Microsoft has not yet said how many testers will partake in the Longhorn beta, but the company is expected to open the program and accept public applications later this summer.

Jupiter Research senior analyst and Microsoft Monitor author Joe Wilcox questioned how complete Beta 1 will really be. "I expect Longhorn Beta 1 to be a fairly limited test, whether looked at by number of testers or product features," Wilcox said.

"The real beta -- the one revealing broadest feature changes -- likely won't come until, at best, end of this year. That means Microsoft customers, partners and competitors won't yet be able to judge Longhorn progress or what the new Windows version will mean to them."

Along with Longhorn Beta 1, Microsoft is launching a new portal for beta testers called "Connect." Connect is expected to serve as Microsoft's central clearinghouse for its beta programs, enabling users to view available betas and apply directly to join a test.

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