Although Microsofts Windows Hardware Engineering Conference has typically focused on multimedia applications, security issues will likely steal the spotlight this year.
WinHEC, which begins next Tuesday in New Orleans, has dedicated an entire track to Microsofts Next Generation Secure Computing Base, formerly known as Palladium.
Previous WinHEC conferences have focused upon improving various attributes of the PC, such as graphics, audio, and peripheral devices. But this years WinHEC is a pivotal one, as it will introduce attendees to a detailed look at Microsofts vision of trusted computing, the way in which PCI Express will redesign the PC, the addition of 64-bit processors to the PC environment, roaming from GSM to WiFi networks, and significant improvements to networking hardware.
“Actually, its hard to tell what the message is going to be,” said Michael Cherry, lead OS analyst for the consulting firm .Directions on Microsoft. “Traditionally, WinHEC is designed for hardware vendors who receive information on what they need to do with Windows even earlier than software developers.”
In his keynote address, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates is expected to describe how the concept of computing is becoming increasingly untethered from the PC, observers said. At the same time, Gates should describe Microsofts ongoing efforts to rework the “experience” of PC computing through improved functionality and communications capabilities.
Gates keynote, titled “New Frontiers in Hardware and Software,” will explain “how the relationship between hardware and software has never been more important as information workers, IT professionals, consumers and developers interact with an ever-growing array of computing devices,” according to a Microsoft spokesman.
Gates keynote will also involve demonstrations of real-time communications advances, next-generation PC prototypes, and innovations in machine provisioning, application deployment and systems management, the spokesman added.
Following Gates will be Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway scooter, who will talk about innovation and how it can be fostered in the workplace. Jen-Hsun Huang, chief executive of graphics chip maker Nvidia will round out the keynote addresses, highlighting how the PC has become a true convergence platform. Its possible that Huang will offer a sneak peek of the companys NV35 graphics chip, said to be scheduled to be announced in mid-May.
All eyes on NGSCB
All eyes on NGSCB
Microsofts presentations on its security technologies will likely be closely watched. Since the company renamed its Palladium technology to NGSCB, the companys security efforts have been closely scrutinized. Microsoft has provided a fairly detailed explanation of what NGSCB actually is, but not of its individual components, especially the “nexus”, a secure OS module that will provide protected communications with applications and memory. Microsofts hardware partners, including AMD and Intel, have been equally vague regarding how their CPUs and chipsets will implement the NGSCB technology. (Check out eWeek.com Monday for the scoop on Nexus)
Since Palladiums announcement, Microsofts strategy has been heavily scrutinized by end users worried that the DRM scheme will impede their ability to “own” their own data. For this reason, NGSCB will likely be restricted to large corporations and other businesses, according to Martin Reynolds, a Gartner fellow scheduled to talk at WinHEC about the industrys reaction to NGSCB.
In his presentation, Reynolds will explain that while a firewall can lock down the front door to a corporate database, company secrets can trickle down via WiFi, handheld PDAs, instant messaging, and other holes. Through rigorous enforcement of trusted computing methods, such as a hardware controlled PIN, businesses can lock down their own data and even develop new trust-based business models, according to Reynolds.
Reynolds expects NGSCB to be deployed in 2005, and almost ubiquitous by 2008. In those three years after deployment consumers will eye NGSCB, become familiar with it, and probably adopt it without protest, he said. Deploying it first to consumers would be a bad idea, however.
The bottom line? “(It) needs to stay out of the consumer space for a while,” Reynolds said in an email.
Microsoft will discuss the user authentication modules used with NGSCB, in addition to concepts like “trusted graphics,” where visuals presented by one application would not be viewable by a separate application. This likely will mean the end to “screen capture” applications, analysts said. Representatives for Nvidia and ATI Technologies said they will be involved in the “trusted graphics” presentations, and the ATI official said that ATIs “technology” would be used.
In addition to NGSCB, Microsoft will offer technical tracks on a variety of subjects, most concerning the Longhorn operating system that was discussed at last years show.
Topics for Discussion
Topics will include:
- The Longhorn Universal Audio Architecture, designed to create a baseline standard for next-generation PC audio that “just works”, and provides users greater control;
- “Longhorn Signature Monitor”, which apparently is a display which self-optimizes itself for business applications, then can be reconfigured for video;
- More on “NewCard”, the modular format to be used for X1 and X2 implementations of the PCI Express standard, due next year;
- “Native 802.11”, most likely a name given to roaming between WiFi and cellular networks, especially on PDAs and mobile handsets;
- 2D and 3D interfaces for the Windows desktop, similar to the way in which 3D hardware is used to accelerate the Apple Macintosh desktop GUI;
- A discussion of the “4.0+” shaders found within Microsofts forthcoming DirectX revisions,
- A significant networking update, which involves a discussion of “chimney offloading” techniques for offloading TCP/IP protocols. TCP/IP is generally handled by the host CPU, but it will be prohibitive for 10-Gbit Ethernet, according to Microsoft, together with a memory management technique called “Remote Direct Memory Access”;
- An update on Mt. Rainier; which allows data to be written and rewritten to optical discs without the need to reburn the entire disc;
- An update on Serial ATA host controllers, and Serial ATA-2;
- Discussions of Windows server and client OSes running on Intel processors, as well as AMD-64 processors for desktops and servers;
- Windows Server Automated Services and future Windows Server directions.
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