Although its difficult to find just one hardware company with a love-hate relationship with Microsoft Corp., one candidate might be Advanced Micro Devices Inc.
A vast number of chip and device companies depend on Microsoft to build a framework for device drivers to connect to, to develop the drivers itself or to bundle the third-party drivers together under the auspices of an operating system. This relationship will play itself out again this week, when hardware makers gather in Seattle for the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, or WinHEC.
For example, Microsoft executives are expected to focus on the living room, with new concept PC designs intended to improve communication and management of a users personal media.
Conference materials also discuss Web Services for Devices API, a new programming interface for embedded devices. Microsoft executives are also likely to speak about how to tie existing technologies into the Windows framework, including its Next-Generation Secure Computing Base, formerly code-named Palladium.
On one hand, AMDs 64-bit chips require OS support to reach their full potential. Microsoft has said it expects to have 64-bit Extended Editions of both Windows Server and the XP operating system in the second half of 2004. A new updated 64-bit beta version of the software is likely to be made available at the WinHEC conference.
When AMD introduced the AMD64 architecture a year ago, the architecture received a warm endorsement from Microsoft, as well as a beta version of Windows XP 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems, which should be expanded to incorporate Intels own extended architecture when and if Intel brings out a 64-bit chip for the PC.
So far, Intel has indicated only that it will ship a 32-bit Xeon server chip with 64-bit extensions. That chip, dubbed “Nocona,” is due to sample this quarter.
Meanwhile, AMD has painted both the 64-bit Athlon64 and Opteron as superior 32-bit chips.
Hard to Second
So far, the market has agreed: AMD64 units doubled during the most recent quarter compared with the fourth quarter of 2003, the company said. Henri Richard, senior vice president of worldwide sales and marketing for the company, told analysts during the companys first-quarter conference call, “I dont see any constraints on AMD64 for the second half of the year.”
“It would be hard for us to second-guess the partner,” said Margaret Lewis, a software strategy manager for AMD. “You know what most hope for is the idea of a complete ecosystem. Thats just not a reality. Hardware is way ahead of the software, and the software needs to have hardware to have a development process.”
When Microsoft rolls out its 64-bit OSes, Lewis said, there could be another spike in AMD64 purchases, in addition to the early adopters and hobbyists who have adopted the 64-bit chips. Professionals are used to beta software, and they will likely upgrade their software to the final release and “keep on moving,” Lewis said.
But she said home users are unlikely to invest in a 64-bit processor and a 32-bit OS, and then upgrade as soon as the final version comes out. “Its an unrealistic path for people to take,” Lewis said.
Other hot hardware topics on tap for WinHEC:
Microsoft will expand on its concept of Windows Driver Framework, a foundation for next-generation Windows drivers. WDF attempts to eliminate much of the “boilerplate” code that accompanies a driver, providing default options for handling power management, I/O, plug and play, and other functions.
More details will likely leak on NGSCB, the code name for the Palladium security architecture underlying Longhorn and, eventually, other connected devices. As they did at last years WinHEC, graphics makers and other peripheral manufacturers are expected to talk about how they will make their devices NGSCB-compliant.
Next-generation mobile and tablet PCs. Traditionally, Microsoft has looked to Hewlett-Packard Co. to develop concept PCs using Microsoft technology, which the company has opened up for review and analysis by the technology community. In a session titled “Auxiliary Displays for Mobile PCs,” Microsoft is expected to talk about how a PDA or small LCD screen could be used to display the highest-priority information, such as an imminent appointment or urgent e-mail message.
A subset of mobile PC technology will be ExpressCard, the PCI Express-based successor to the PC Card or PCMCIA Cards used in todays notebook PCs. Although card makers have shown only a handful of cards, more are expected as the technology, at least, moves toward a summer launch.