A Letter From Redmond

Installation Restrictions and New Licensing Plans Could Cloud Microsoft XP's Future.

Taking its customary fighting stance, Microsoft disputes findings from beta testers and analysts that under Windows XP all applications and drivers need to be "signed" or need to be re-registered online before they can run.

In a recent letter to [email protected] Partner, Jim Allchin, VP of Microsofts Platforms Group, clarified how drivers and applications would run under XP.

First, with drivers, Allchin writes, "We are not blocking unsigned drivers in Windows XP. The default is set at warn. We have been encouraged by computer manufacturers to change the default to block, but we are staying with warn. The warning message you get is scary if you are trying to load an unsigned driver and rightly so, in my view."

Allchin explains that Microsoft does this because, "We know for a fact that unsigned means that the drivers are much more likely to cause instability, crash, leak memory, etc."

For end users, Microsofts logic is that an end user should "use signed drivers if [they] want a stable system" and that is "great for customers." For OEMs, though, it means that they must work closely with Microsoft or face having their devices not work in some systems and being blamed for instability problems.

Allchin continues that when it comes to applications, the company does have a new application logo for Windows XP, and that Microsoft does not prevent applications that "arent logoed" from running. He emphasizes that applications operating under the companys logo requirements "will give a customer a better experience."

Building a "Designed for Windows XP" logoed application "doesnt require the use of a Microsoft compiler (or other Microsoft tools) to build your application." Of course, simply reading the requirements for getting your application a Designed for Windows XP logo are spelled out in Microsofts Designed for Windows XP page (www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/partners/dfwspec.asp).

One senior developer at a major Windows ISV is not convinced. "I dont care how they spin it, the bottom line is that theyre making it harder and harder to develop for Windows unless youre hand in glove with them," the developer says. "The mechanism is there, just like with the drivers, to go from warn to block."

Microsofts new Software Assurance plan, which kicks in Oct. 1, incorporates all volume license agreements. While the new plan assures customers that theyll get the latest version of Microsoft programs, it also will require customers to upgrade all of their systems to Windows 2000—the latest shipping operating system. If a customer doesnt upgrade systems and get on the plan, the customer will need to purchase any future XP upgrades at full price or 35 percent more.

As Al Gillen, IDCs research manager of systems software says, "Its a way to force all volume customers to upgrade and boost Microsoft revenue."