Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates on Tuesday showed off a method to unify the Windows experience on several platforms, as part of making IT simpler and easier to use.
In his keynote address here at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, Gates also introduced off “Athens”, a prototype PC based on the Agora PC prototype, showed off the Next-Generation Secure Computing Base, introduced the concept of the “dynamic data center”, and presented a cut-rate deal on Windows CE .Net.
As he has done with previous WinHEC presentations, Gates offered a “report card” on how various attributes of the PC have fared over the past year. The economy and how applications leverage the hardware generated failing grades, Gates said. However, Gates said the robustness of the PC platform, including the way in which the software giant can accumulate data on software crashes to help hardware makers improve their driver software, had held their own. Successes included the widespread adoption of Windows XP, and the price/performance combinations that PC makers had achieved.
“The PC platform – theres no way that anyone can say that the PC isnt the highest-performance platform of any out there,” Gates said.
“Breakthroughs” included the digital camera and WiFi wireless, although new ways to tie the two together are needed, Gates said. In addition, Gates said he looked forward to quality-of-service improvements that are due out near the end of the year through the 802.11i standard.
Microsofts announcements were set against the backdrop of a dynamically changing Windows landscape, based on a number of new hardware introductions. Microsofts new uniform navigation interface, however, will add to the revised look and feel of the Windows platform, one which will already receive several revisions with the introduction of the Longhorn OS.
Microsofts new navigation scheme, called “XEEL,” will be based upon the “mouse wheel” interface designed into the latest generation of computer mice. The XEEL interface will simplify and provide consistency to Tablet PCs, Pocket PCs, Windows Powered Smart Phones, Windows Powered Smart Displays and everyday objects based on Microsofts Smart Personal Objects Technology, according to Microsoft. Hardware designers will also be encouraged to adopt XEEL, simplifying the design but giving them one less means to differentiate them.
“Athens”, meanwhile, will be designed to streamline the communications interface. The PC prototype, codesigned with Hewlett-Packard, will merge next-generation voice, video, and text messaging into a consistent design, HP said.
Gates said its necessary for the phone and the PC to come together. Microsoft has already designed the “Stinger” version of Windows CE for mobile handsets. Both the phone and the PC must be aware of each others presence and interact, Gates said.
“Just as we did with the Tablet PC and the Media Center PC, HP and Microsoft are creating a new standard of joint innovation in hardware, software and product design,” said Carly Fiorina, chief executive officer of HP, in a statement Monday night. “The Athens PC will empower business customers with an entirely new class of business technology that provides a seamless and natural experience for communications and collaboration.”
Athens will include integrated telephony functionality, together with a wireless handset and headset. Users will work on a 16:10 high-resolution display, likely using the XEEL navigation system. The PC is designed to mimic an appliance, running quietly and booting in under two seconds, then powering down when not in use. Powering down will save companies about $90 per user per year in power savings, Microsoft estimates.
Chad Magendanz, lead program manager for Microsoft, said that a 20-inch version of the high-resolution display would be available for under $400 in 2004, prompting snorts of disbelief from some hardware executives in the audience.
During a demonstration Magendanz received an incoming call, which was recorded as a audio file on the PC. Using a reverse lookup of the calls origin, the software deduced the callers ID, then pulled up recent emails and other files to give the caller full access to the history of the relationship between the two. A user can also specify a “do not disturb” light that routes incoming calls directly to voice mail, which in turn could be displayed in a unified inbox showing faxes, email, and voice mail.
However, executives did not say whether these capabilities would be designed into the next-generation Longhorn OS, or on a specific implementation designed for Athens-class PCs.
The Athens PC will include a rechargeable dock for Tablet PCs, and also work together with next-generation phones, including a new model designed by Texas Instruments. Magendanz said. Biometrics will be enabled on Athens, using a combination flash chip that can store documents, together with a biometric sensor.
Although the “Palladium” Next Generation Secure Computing Base will feature prominently at the show, Gates left the meat of the presentation to the numerous technical tracks hear at this three-day event. Mike Nash, corporate vice-president of the Secure Business Unit, will present the first working demonstration of the NGSCB later on Tuesday.
“We do think that over this (NGSCB) will become a feature of all PCs,” Gates said.
Gates also discussed the concept of the Dynamic Data Center (DDC), part of Microsofts Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI) roadmap. A DDC is defined as “a combination of industry standard servers, storage and networking hardware that is connected in a prescribed manner, and dynamically provisioned and centrally managed”, according to Microsoft.
Microsoft presenters configured a DDC server topology consisting of a mélange of HP servers, a SAN array, and HP networking switches using an XML-driven DDC wizard.
Gates also showed off a Windows Server 2003 system using Intels Itanium processors, but also highlighted AMDs competing Opteron processor as well.
Lastly, Gates highlighted Microsofts embedded offerings, including Windows CE .NET 4.2 “Core”, a new low-cost license which will be available June 1 for just three dollars. New Evaluation and Emulation versions of Windows CE .Net 4.2, used to bring new designs to the Microsoft fold, have also been added.