Allchins Eye on Longhorn

Microsoft exec talks about Longhorn, Yukon and other software in the works.

As Microsoft Corp. prepares to unleash new software over the next year, including the Windows .Net Server 2003 family, the next version of its Office productivity suite and three server infrastructure applications, Jim Allchin, group vice president for platforms at the Redmond, Wash., company, sat down with eWeek Senior Editor Peter Galli in San Jose, Calif., to discuss this next round of software releases.

eWeek: Microsoft is working on a number of software products for release over the next year. What server products are in beta or on the drawing board?

Allchin: You can expect to see wide betas for Greenwich [a real-time communications server], the second version of SharePoint Team Services and the work we are doing in digital rights management, which is another server thats going to come out.

eWeek: What technologies from the upcoming Yukon database will be found in Windows?

Allchin: The operating system needs to understand people at a rich level and elevate them to data-class objects. Yukon allows all data to be marked up, common schemas to be defined and the information to be natively stored. We need to do all this, and its very tough. Were learning as we do it. Theres no question Longhorn [the next version of Windows] is a long way off because, as we do the schemas, we are looking at how things will be stored efficiently and whether dynamic indices can be carried on the fly, etc. The next stage will be a Professional Developers Conference held towards the middle of next year where pieces of code are handed out for people to start playing with. This will cover our new 3-D [three-dimensional] stuff and all the Longhorn-managed APIs. Yukon is going fine, but as we find things, we realize we have a lot more work to do on this for Longhorn. The trick is bringing it all together.

eWeek: Microsoft has talked a lot about the new storage system to be found in Yukon and said some of those technologies will be used in Longhorn. Will that technology be found in the upcoming Windows .Net 2003 servers?

Allchin: No, theres a separate team working on what we call WinFS [Windows File System] and a separate team working on Yukon. Theres obviously a lot of technology flowing between them, but none of that is in Windows .Net Server. But theres so much else in the .Net servers. I think the idea of roles and the ability to quickly be able to say that one is a file server, another a Web server, another a [Domain Name System] server—and have the system configure to the minimal configuration from a security lock-down situation and being able to use it in that mode—is a big push towards simplicity. I love the improvements weve made in ASP [Active Server Pages] .Net around the whole process model and what you can do with process groupings and the performance gains to be had with that. The streaming media server is incredible and is included in the .Net server. Thats a big advancement in terms of infrastructure.

eWeek: Is your goal still to release the Longhorn client and server at the same time? When do you expect that to be?

Allchin: Thats still my goal, but so much can change. Some of our designers are already working on the Longhorn server, thinking about new event systems and the like. But its just too early to say when itll be ready for release. We know the vision, and we have huge teams moving ahead on the different pieces. We do have Longhorn builds, but were still a long, long way away.

eWeek: What is really exciting for you in Longhorn, particularly around the next-generation technology for the enterprise?

Allchin: Theres a bunch of work going on around what I call concrete plumbing, covering things like hot patching—the ability to keep machines running while you patch them—to all the work were doing on standardized install. On the networking side, we have many ideas around how to create ad hoc groups on the fly. For example, if several laptops are in a room for a meeting, we want the PowerPoint presentations to be able to show up on all of them concurrently, to be able to project those up to the projector wirelessly or to synchronize what theyre doing so they can make notes without having to do any setup to get the dynamic bonding in a secure way.

We have a lot of ideas about making the system simpler. Automation is our dream, not just of the business processes but also to have the machines automate and self-heal themselves.

On the client side, the visualization capability that youll be able to do with our new 3-D technology will really help knowledge workers. My dream is that the client never stops running, has integrated communications built in, great visualization capabilities and a lot of flexibility. Im as excited as Ive ever been about where the PC and the server are going.

eWeek: What are your plans for reintroducing Smart Tags into Longhorn?

Allchin: I havent given up on that idea but have given it no thought since it got removed from Windows XP. Its not that big a deal, and it was so surprising to me that it caused so much consternation. But I learned that its a serious issue, and when we go decide on this, well bring all those people concerned about copyright and other issues in and discuss it with them.