Bill Gates will use his annual opening keynote at Comdex in Las Vegas on Sunday to tout one of his favorite projects, the Tablet PC.
But sources familiar with Gates speech say he is also hoping to announce the availability of the third beta for Microsoft Corp.s Windows .Net server family—if the development team can complete them by then.
"We are shooting for an announcement in this regard at Comdex, but this is beta software and we may just not be ready in time for that. But, if that is the case, there will be an announcement shortly thereafter," a source said.
Enterprise customers have been waiting for the final release of the servers, which Microsoft had targeted for this year. But that has been pushed out to sometime next year.
In a recent interview with eWeek, Jim Allchin, Microsofts group vice president in charge of Windows, said that while the Redmond, Wash., software firm had hoped to ship the final server products in the first half of next year, the exact timing would depend on the feedback received from clients around the third beta.
"We only factor a small amount of feedback, but if we get more than that then well change the date. Thats just what we have to do," he said, confirming that the server beta would be ready this month.
The server family consists of the entry-level file and print Windows Server, the mid-level symmetric multiprocessing Windows Advanced Server and Windows Datacenter server, targeted at the mainframe.
Microsoft is listening to a lot of customer feedback from Windows 2000 on the server side to decide what to do there, Allchin said. Responding to criticism that the server release had been pushed out at the expense of the client, Allchin said Microsoft had also made a decision to prioritize the Windows XP client over the server to get it out quickly.
When the second server beta was released in April, Microsoft said it had learned from its past mistakes and had added a number of features to make deployment far easier, especially for Active Directory—the crown jewel of the server suite.
At that time David Thompson, the vice president for Microsofts Windows Product Server Group, told eWeek that it would be providing far more prescriptive guidance going forward. The second beta saw a lot of attention given to improving the deployment of Active Directory, which allows technology administrators to more easily manage resources on a corporate network and speed up the handling of security access, he said.
For his part, Gates told attendees at Microsoft annual shareholders meeting, held this week in Seattle, that a big milestone for the company would be when the Tablet PC shipped in about a years time. "I have a keynote speech at Comdex in Las Vegas this Sunday, and well use that opportunity, together with our partners, to show the progress weve made with the Tablet PC.
"Ill talk a little bit about the prototypes, and how thats shaping up. I have to say that Im very, very enthused about that, the combination of the hardware advances, the wireless network thats called Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity), and the software that were doing for that is a very profound change in terms of how people think about using their PC. Even things like reading long documents, or annotating documents will become mainstream because of that form factor," he said.
It was at Comdex a year ago that Gates unveiled the prototype of the Tablet PC, which he then described as the ultimate .Net client. Not only was the Tablet a great window on the .Net services on the Web, but it had all the heritage of the functionality of the PC and would be used in many additional situations, he said at that time.
The Tablet will run Windows XP, has a USB keyboard, a mouse, audio and 10 gigabytes of hard disk space. It is expected to weigh some 2 pounds and feature a 600 MHz processor and wireless networking.
It supports "handwritten ink," where the user writes on the tablet with a stylus. The ink is captured at 133 samples a second rather than the 30 or 40 samples a second captured with a mouse. Users can add text, cut and paste, and search through all handwritten ink documents for any word. "In short, you can do almost everything you can with your PC or laptop. It brings the ability to think in ink," Gates said.
In March, at the Windows Hardware Engineers Conference, Gates announced that Compaq Computer Corp., Toshiba Inc., Fujitsu Ltd and Acer Inc. were among the OEM partners that would build and market the Tablet PC, while Intel Corp. and Transmeta Corp. would provide the semiconductor technology.
The OEMs will have full discretion as to how they built and market the Tablet PC, and as to which low power X86 chip they used, Gates said then.
Gates is also expected to use his Comdex keynote to talk at some length about the home environment. He set the stage at this weeks shareholder meeting, where he said that while most of Microsofts sales primarily came from the enterprise and business, it was aware of the huge opportunity for technology in the home.
"Weve had major investments around MSN, Xbox, and our work on TV set-top boxes. We see that with the move towards having all your information available—your photos, your music, your family schedule, your family communications, and rich entertainment; both games on the PC and games on the TV itself—that very dramatic things can be done there," he said.
He also is expected to use his keynote to talk about the future of Web services and to detail Microsofts initiatives in that regard, sources said.