The Windows that Never Was…

One in three projects fail. There are literally hundreds of bits of software that never ended up seeing the light of day because of project cancellations, budget cuts… you name it. I’ve always found it fascinating that even in a large company like Microsoft, projects have fallen by the wayside a fair few times.

Neptune Logo

One such project is Neptune. Only available into it’s beta phase before being scrapped, Windows Codename Neptune is the missing bridge between the 9x and XP way of doing things.I managed to get Neptune build 5111 on CD. It’s one of the later builds before the project was scrapped, and I was really curious to see what it looked like and what it contained. Putting the CD in gives me quite a fun error message:

Neptune Message 1

Apparently Neptune is better than XP x64 that’s running on this test box! I must have missed that memo… And look – Neptune boasts reliability, speed, security… all sounds very XP! Anyway, I fired up virtual machine and started up the install process from scratch.

Neptune 2

This installer feels really Windows 95. I remember doing my first ever Windows 95 install and thinking “Wow, this all looks so cool” and yet 12 years on it feels a little jaded. It’s not quite Aero :-)

Still, the install process didn’t take long at all, and I’m greeted with what looks like a fully loaded and ready to go desktop. But wait! What’s this? My first glimmer of a feature that later made it into XP…

Neptune 3

Creating a user right off the bat? Sure, in XP its built in to the nice blueandgreen welcome screen, and I can add more than one user at that stage… but this is definitely something new. Notice the little “Comments?” link in the title bar? That appears in every window – great way to get feedback on bugs as and when they’re happening! Time to start exploring…

Neptune 5

Microsoft Neptune! The start menu at this stage is still the same as ever it seems – this one is lifted right from Win2K. I guess the focus didn’t shift to cosmetics until development of XP got fully underway. Still, this seems all very stable so far – no BSOD from clicking start, which is something my Beta of Windows ME never quite managed… So, I figured I’d poke around and look for any other XPish features…

Didn’t take me long. As I was looking for a way to change the screen resolution (you may have noticed…) I stumbled upon the ‘new look’ control panel. While it uses HTML as opposed to the API way of making things look nice in XP, it’s a definate departure from the 9x and win2k way of doing things. And while it looks a bit web 1.0 to us now, I guess this was pretty special when it was thought up 9 years ago! So, flicked through some of the more advanced options and user accounts seemed much more like XP than the things that went before. I set up a few, restarted the machine, and was greeted with something familiar…

Yeah, that’s a welcome screen. You heard it here first – one of the most celebrated features of Windows XP actually originated right here in Neptune! It comes complete with guest account (with a magic 8 ball for some reason…) and even the turn off the computer button. It’s not quite blueandgreen, but it’s certainly the welcome screen!

But alas, all of this wasn’t meant to be. The goal of Neptune was to develop a home user operating system that used the NT kernel that had only previously been developed for business users. It was designed to replace the older DOS-based Windows 9x home user operating systems, but after the release of Windows 2k, the Neptune team was combined with the Windows 2000 team to work on the “Whistler” project that then became the Windows XP we know and love, and Microsoft released another home user DOS-based operating system in the mean time. I think you all know what version of Windows that turned out to be… Good old Windows ME.

Still, nearly a decade on, it’s nice to look back and acknowledge that while Neptune never saw the light of day, some of it’s best features survived on to XP, Vista, and who knows where else they might go…

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