SEATTLE—As the hardware industry descends on Seattle for the annual Windows Hardware Engineering Conference this week, Microsoft Corp. Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates will use the event to announce on Monday the release of Microsofts Windows 64-bit server and client software.
WinHEC, which focuses on the hardware side of the house for Microsoft, is the event where Windows is viewed as the integration point for all the various vendor hardware products as well as for the applications that run on top of it.
“There will be lots of technical tracks focusing on hardware and the software that runs above that, what API sets are available and coming, new scenarios and devices to be supported, and then a dialogue about how we create the next stage of Windows computing,” Greg Sullivan, the lead program manager for Windows, told eWEEK in an interview ahead of the show.
Gates will also use his opening keynote at the event to talk about the three decades of Windows computing: The first decade (1985-1995) was all about 16-bit computing, while the second decade (1995-2005) was all about 32-bit computing, the rise of the Internet, the creation of digital media and the fact that the way people use the PC and devices has changed significantly.
One of the core attributes of the third decade is 64-bit computing, “but we are not leaving 32-bit behind,” Sullivan said. Gates will demonstrate what can now be done with 64-bit computing and the new scenarios that come with it.
“He will demonstrate how easily digital content can be created on a high-end workstation by generating a movie clip within minutes; highlighting the time saved in rendering that clip,” he said.
The release of the Windows XP Pro 64-bit client was the start of mainstream 64-bit client-side computing, Sullivan said, admitting the catch with this 64-bit release is that there are many devices for which 64-bit drivers have not yet been written.
Turning to the next release of Windows, code-named Longhorn, Sullivan said it will be inherently 64-bit, but 32-bit enabled, except for the specific customized country Longhorn Starter editions, which began with Windows XP, which will remain 32-bit. However, no packaging and SKU decisions have been made for Longhorn as yet, he said.
But, again, he pointed to the need for 64-bit device drivers to be written for Longhorn to “complete the picture. Longhorn will be the wave for this,” Sullivan said.
“The 64-bit Windows client release will be an OEM and system builder release only. If you have Windows XP Professional and you want this release, we will make a free copy available from the OEMs over the next three months. You will also be able to dual-boot it with Windows XP,” he said.
While Longhorn has so far been characterized in terms of the API framework sets—Avalon, Indigo and WinFS—it is far more than that, he said. But the fact that Microsoft has delayed the delivery of WinFS and said it is going to make Avalon and Indigo available downstream to Windows XP, “people then started saying that Longhorn would be nothing more than Windows XP SP3. But that is not the case,” he said.
This will be evident in the Gates keynote, which will demonstrate some of the key attributes of Longhorn and the hardware that will exploit it, especially in the mobile and device space, said Sullivan.
Gates will also give a glimpse of the new user experience, Aero Glass, and show some working code and user interface elements that exploit underlying graphic elements and how data can be used in ways that were not available before.
While there will be different levels of display quality, which will depend on the graphics power of the computer, Aero Glass will be the richest view and sport features like translucent windows.
For its part, Aero will have lower requirements and offer many, but not all, of the features. Finally, a minimal user interface will look fairly similar to current versions of Windows, Microsoft executives have said.
“Within Windows Longhorn, we will show how user data can be organized in virtual folders and how metadata can be used to find, store and search your data. But you dont need WinFS for the fairly constrained scenarios that the Windows shell presents us. We can do this within Windows because we dont have to account for every possible scenario and expose them all as fully documented APIs,” Sullivan said.
While Windows will understand how to show, organize and visualize a users data and allow them to access it in a way they want rather than the current hierarchical file and folder view, the whole new WinFS storage subsystem is only needed for those applications written to Windows to take advantage of that.
“People are saying Longhorn is going to be Windows XP SP3, which it is anything but. People will be surprised how advanced it is graphically and how different the paradigm is. What you will see is just in the Windows shell and so you wont be able to do some of the cool third-party scenarios yet,” Sullivan said.
WinFS will also extend the ability to integrate and query metadata and manage, organize and visualize data. Also, the notion of having a relational database model as the storage engine does even more and gives more flexibility, even in the shell.
Sullivan also addressed claims that Longhorns search facilities, and even WinFS, will offer less innovation than that found in Apple Computer Inc.s upcoming Tiger release and the next version of the Linux desktop, from companies like Novell Inc.
“Search is important, of course it is, and there will be desktop search in Longhorn. But there are two key differentiators between WinFS and the search facilities available in Apples upcoming Tiger and in the upcoming Linux desktops.
“With WinFS, we are building an infrastructure that organizes your data in a way you dont have to search for it. I want to be able to have the system intelligently organize my data. This will be beyond what Tiger has. Search is just a tiny piece of this paradigm; by itself it doesnt deliver the scenarios that are meaningful to users. We need a system that keeps data from getting lost in the first place and then exposes it in a variety of ways that allow you to get to what you want,” Sullivan said.
“The second differentiator is the fact that we will deliver a system supported by every type of hardware. It will run on thousands of different hardware devices and thousands of different applications on top of it,” he said.
Microsoft is thinking about organization and visualization and keeping things from getting lost in the first place. “Sure we will have search—it will be great and fast—but WinFS is much more than that. It will take us a bit longer to do, and were fine with that because when we do we will have solved the problem in a much more meaningful and elegant way,” Sullivan said.
WinFS will be in beta by the time the client version of Longhorn ships, currently on track for late 2006 but in time for the holiday season, he said.
Gates will also talk about two new partner programs. First, the Windows logo program for Longhorn will be updated to include a silver and gold tier. A gold “designed for Windows” certified logo will mean that the device or application fully exploits Longhorn demonstrably better than those that are not certified this way. A silver logo will mean that the device or application does not fully exploit Longhorn.
The other program will address an issue facing many enterprises: what hardware to buy now, if the enterprise is in its PC hardware buying cycle, that will take advantage of Longhorn. While Microsoft will not be announcing the minimum or recommended system requirements for Longhorn on Monday, as these are still not final, Sullivan said, Microsoft will “articulate a program that we can then deliver over the course of the next month to OEMs.”
That will essentially advise OEMs that if a user buys a PC that meets the minimum XP silver requirements and is a midrange, mainstream computer, with 512MB of RAM and a graphics subsystem that supports the new Longhorn Display Driver model (LDDM)—virtually all of the discreet graphics subsystems will support LDDM, while integrated shared memory ones will not —it “will run Longhorn great,” Sullivan said.