October 25--this Thursday--is the day that Microsofts much-hyped Windows XP operating system makes its debut. Microsoft is hosting a two-day launch event in New York, and--despite the fact that the event will take place in a city still reeling from recent terrorist attacks--XPs launch is slated to feature celebrities, glitz, lots of demonstrations of the product and, in a nod to our new reality, more stringent security than anyone has ever encountered at a semi-public Microsoft event before.
Most of the key details about the product are known, of course. Windows XP marries the Windows 98 and Windows Me facility for running legacy hardware and games with Windows 2000s more reliable software kernel. The operating system incorporates many of Microsofts .NET components and services, and talk of .NET is likely to be weaved throughout the XP launch event. The .NET strategy, which Microsoft has aligned its business around, calls for deploying ubiquitous software services, based on XML, to all kinds of devices.
At Microsofts Professional Developers Conference, which immediately preceded the rollout of XP, Microsoft released data showing that the .NET strategy has picked up some significant backing in the software community. More than 130 .NET software components from over 35 developers were showcased at the conference, and more than 25 application hosting companies are offering .NET applications online. The .NET Framework, a multi-language component development and execution environment, is to become gold code in conjunction with the release of Windows XP.
The operating system offers many improvements for enterprise users, including enhanced security and manageability as well as support for wireless technologies. Windows XP supports the 802.1x standard and features a Remote Desktop to improve the mobile user experience. Windows Messenger, built into XP, supports flexible video technology, which could be attractive for many companies replacing air travel with videoconferencing. The launch event is likely to include demonstrations of these technologies, as well as a showcase of the new Media Player 8. For more on whats under the hood and whats likely to be on display at the XP launch event, see our story "Great Expectations".
With concerns over terrorism still running high--especially in New York--security has been tightened for the launch of Windows XP, and officials from Microsoft report that they worked with federal, local, and state law enforcement officials on security procedures. With the exception of members of the press, laptop computers and cameras will not be allowed at the event, and multiple forms of ID will be required.
With that in mind, its not surprising that many industry analysts see the overall environment for a new release of a Microsoft operating system as negative. Not only are there lingering after-effects of the recent terrorist attacks, but also PC sales are going through one of the worst slumps seen in years. Many new PCs will come loaded with XP, but sales of PCs are down 30 to 40 percent compared with historical levels. Another general issue weighing on Microsoft is lingering concern at some enterprises that Microsofts recently overhauled software licensing policies may be unfavorable.
"In the past few months, it has become clear that many Microsoft customers remain confused--not only about the details of the new licensing programs but also [about] how these licensing changes will affect their technical environments, their financial environment and their overall business plans," says Giga Information Group Vice President Julie Giera. Analysts at Gartner estimate that the licensing changes could raise software costs for some businesses by up to 107 percent. Microsoft has responded by extending the deadlines for some of its new licensing policies from February of next year to July 31, 2002.
Still, the launch of Windows XP has been years in the making, and this weeks New York City event will generate a buzz in the technology industry and outside it. There are many predictions of a turnaround for the IT business in 2002, and Microsofts new operating system could play a critical role in making that happen.
Stay tuned to the PC Magazine Windows XP page for more coverage of the launch.