Microsoft Exec: PCs Still Pivotal

Allchin also outlines plans for 'Longhorn' and .Net Server line.

Microsoft Corp. is sticking to its belief that the PC will remain at the forefront of technology for years to come and that it will serve as the hub for a range of devices for homes and offices. Jim Allchin, the Redmond, Wash., companys group vice president of platforms, sat down with eWeek Senior Editor Peter Galli at WinHEC in Seattle last week to discuss the future of the PC; the next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn; the Windows .Net Server family; and Microsofts Trustworthy Computing initiative.

eWeek: On what are you basing your optimism around the PC?

Allchin: PC sales are still very good in a pretty bad economy worldwide, which says people are buying them. My optimism is based on the fact that I see so many things that PCs can and will do for people and how the industry will morph the PC into all sorts of other environments. I have seen an ultra-mobile PC running Windows XP, and this will be a breathtaking step forward. It is the size of a Pocket PC with all the power of Windows XP.

Also, given the things we will be able to do in the living room in terms of entertainment and in the data center, we are going to end up saving people a lot of money, and the PC can do it. It will be the hub for all these other devices, like cell phones and [personal digital assistants], and all those yet to come. The proliferation of these devices strengthens the message that the PC is here to stay.

eWeek: Are you working on a new server for the home that would act as the hub for all these devices?

Allchin: Yes, thats on the radar. To some degree, our Freestyle technology is a beginning toward that, but it doesnt get us there, as it doesnt have all the distribution aspects for audio and video, but we are working on that. [Freestyle is the code name for a set of technologies that consolidates and presents digital media content in a user interface accessible by remote control.]

eWeek: How will new technologies be reflected in Longhorn?

Allchin: Were making deep, deep investments in Longhorn. So what we plan on showing at our [Professional Developers Conference] later this year will be a set of new managed APIs that will let them have access to the new graphics architecture. Today, most machines ship with 3-D, but the Windows interface only uses 2-D. So, imagine if you had all the capabilities to do 3-D that the shell actually uses as well as make it easy for all applications to get to—not just games but any type of visualization.

eWeek: In your [WinHEC] keynote, you talked about automation for Windows .Net Servers and the "hot patching" technology under development. Where are you with that technology, and which products will it find its way into?

Allchin: The hot patching technology will not find its way into the upcoming .Net Server family, but we have made progress on reducing reboots. What will be in those servers is the ability to update an application that is running as a Web service—say, within .Net Framework or ASP .Net—without taking down anything. ... Longhorn is our next big thing, and we will have made progress on this by Longhorn. Were also working on new patching technology. If we can get the patching technology to be as advanced as we want it to be, that feeds into the hot patching because itll be simpler for us to make a fix and keep the system running without changing as much code.

eWeek: There has been talk you are considering releasing XP Second Edition. Is there any plan to do this?

Allchin: No. We do plan to have a Service Pack. We will be providing components of technology that we might put together on a CD for OEMs, but thats not a Second Edition. An example there could be the release of the Bluetooth thing this May. Come next year, we might package some of those things together and give them to people, but its not a Second Edition. Dont expect us to do a Second Edition as weve done in the past. Were going straight to Longhorn. But everything is subject to change.

eWeek: At this stage, do you expect Longhorn to ship before 2004?

Allchin: I dont think so. But you have to realize that there are teams already working on technologies that will be for the future. We want to make this a very significant release, and we are going to have a reasonable development cycle for this version, which means a lot of innovation can take place. Often, we try to spin things too fast, and we spend all our time just getting the beta feedback and not enough innovation as I would have wanted. We did a pretty good job with XP, and Im pretty jazzed about Longhorn and the value that can be added there.

eWeek: What kind of technologies are you looking at, including in Longhorn?

Allchin: We talked about the graphics, and storage is an area were developing heavily. Yes, Im unrepenting. I have had this dream and do want to see a richer storage system so that you can issue flexible queries. There are so many cool things you could do if you had a heterogeneous store that had flexible queries. So, we are working on that. This will be the same unified type of storage model as in the next version of SQL Server.

eWeek: As Microsoft touts its Trustworthy Computing security initiative, customers are concerned about broken applications. How do you see this panning out?

Allchin: I frankly dont know how many broken applications therell be. But, while its an issue, I dont personally think were going to break a bunch more applications. I think we went through that pain with Windows XP. For drivers, yeah, we might if something is discovered, but thats a little bit different than an application.