SEATTLE—Microsoft is going for the beta hat trick, said Bill Gates, Microsofts chairman and chief software architect.
The software giant on May 23 delivered Beta 2 versions of its Windows Vista operating system, Office System 2007 and Windows Server Longhorn at the same time.
The scheduled 2007 arrival of the three products, now in beta, means that 2007 is shaping up to be one of the most important periods in some years for Microsoft, and by extension, the PC industry.
But by delivering all three betas simultaneously, Microsoft is also setting out to prove that the trio is also more tightly coupled than before when it comes to security and productivity features, including search and document sharing.
“Today is a milestone for us in terms of the huge investment and the innovation thats going on in the next version of Windows and the complementary products,” Gates said in a keynote address that kicked off the WinHEC conference.
“You could say these are the most important Microsoft products. Weve never had these synchronized this way before,” he said. However, “each of these is a very important product, and they all fit within some common themes of what were doing…”
Among those key themes are search, including being able to locate data stored on both locally on a PC and on a back-end server simultaneously, then viewing it and accessing it or adding it to new work such as presentations—as well as collaboration between individuals, backup and security, Gates said.
“Weve very proud of the progress weve made facing down these problems” with security, he said.
Meanwhile, “Storage and backup…. Thats a scenario that we made sure crossed all the work on these products. Every one of these products has things that bring their extensibility to a whole new level. So were really trying to bring it together for customers.”
Microsoft is working to improve Windows Vista and Windows Longhorn Server by adding numerous features, including beefed-up search, sleeker user interfaces, as well as collaboration and, on the server side, virtualization, said Gates and several Microsoft executives who accompanied him, in the keynote.
For business users, Microsoft will beef up security by offering PC hard drive encryption via a feature it calls BitLocker.
BitLocker encrypts data stored on a hard drive, keeping that data safer even if the PC the drive is part of is stolen, company executives said.
ReadyDrive, another new feature, can take advantage of hybrid hard drives—drives that use flash memory to augment their data storage capabilities—in order to boost performance and battery life in notebooks by spinning down the hard drive and caching data in the flash memory.
MeetingSpace, a collaboration tool built into Windows Vista, will allow two or more notebook users to share data by connecting via their machines onboard wireless networking capabilities to share files or simultaneously view presentations.
Vista will also include an updated version of Internet Explorer, dubbed IE 7, which adds QuickTabs, which delivers snapshots of a persons favorite home pages.
The companys Vista Longhorn server, meanwhile, is being designed with virtualization in mind, the Microsoft executives said. Jeff Woolsey, lead program manager windows division, demonstrated for the first time publicly, Microsofts Windows Sever Virtualization, aka the Windows hypervisor, during a demonstration inside Gates keynote.
Woolsey demonstrated Windows Server Virtualization-created virtual machines based on its Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition, Windows Server 2003 64-bit Edition, RedHat Enterprise Linux and Longhorn server all running on the same machine.
Windows Sever Virtualization will also include features such as Virtualized I/O, which makes it possible to add network adapters or resources such as system memory to virtual machines on the fly.
“We did this so we can demonstrate how easy it is to hot add a network adapter to a virtual machine,” Woolsey said.
“No other hardwire virtualization technology provides this hardware functionality for Windows, and this is only the tip of the iceberg.”
Working with Longhorn server, each virtual machine can be allocated up to 32GB of memory and eight processors.
Windows Server Virtualization will come out in beta this year and be released to manufacturing about 100 days after Windows Server Longhorn, Gates said, meaning the virtualization product will also debut in 2007.
Completing the trifecta, Microsoft has been working on the Office System 2007, otherwise known as Office 12.
“Office is quite important in how its using [Vistas enhanced] graphics capabilities,” Gates said.
The suite includes a new toolbar or Ribbon User Interface, as Microsoft executives call it, designed to make it easier to add things like subheadings or footnotes to documents.
The suite also includes the capability to more easily search out and, if necessary, add data from other documents stored locally or on a server to a document like a PowerPoint presentation.
Meanwhile, Gates said that an improved version of SharePoint will become a standard platform for collaboration in the same way Microsofts Word and Excel have become de facto standards for document creation.
SharePoint “is something that youll assume people just know,” Gates said. “Getting people to collaborate inside your organization with that capability just becomes common sense. Youll take for granted that people are setting these up and using them.”
While Microsofts trio of 2007 products, such as Vista, add numerous new features, Gates said they wouldnt be possible without advances in hardware, including the move from 32-bits to 64-bits in processors—a transition that mainly makes it possible to add more memory to a computer—and multicore processors, which combine two or more processor cores into a single chip.
Other elements are also coming together, including increases in network bandwidth and the advent of large, yet inexpensive LCD screens.
“The innovation feeds on itself. Its led to record sales of Windows PCs over 250 million this year; thats more than a 10 percent increase, coming up from last year,” Gates said.
It will not be without challenges, including creating more highly multithreaded software, which will be better able to take advantage of multicore processors.
But “Were very excited about the things we can come up with here to take things to a new level,” Gates said.
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