Step Right Up! Come See the New Features in Windows

Microsoft offers look at technologies such as new graphics architecture, hot swapping.

As Microsoft Corp. starts to reveal its hand and give details about the upcoming technologies it wants to ship in the next version of Windows—including a new graphics architecture, hot-swapping technologies and a richer storage system—IT managers, administrators and consultants are giving these developing technologies a tentative thumbs up.

Many also are pleased with the Redmond, Wash., companys promise of a longer release cycle for Longhorn, the code name for the next version of Windows. Jim Allchin, Microsofts group vice president of platforms, recently said the company wants to make Longhorn "a very significant release. 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," Allchin said, adding that this means Longhorn will probably not be released before 2004.

Users and IT professionals have mostly welcomed the longer release cycle, saying it should give Microsoft time to carefully build a useful product. John Persinger, an internal network administrator for Source4 Inc., in Roanoke, Va., said any additional time Microsoft spends on Longhorn will be beneficial. "As Microsofts products find their way into every segment of our networks, the more carefully they build them, the better," Persinger said.

Tim Sagstetter, president of Kernel Software Inc., in Wausau, Wis., agreed, saying customers perceived poor value when upgrade cycles were short. "Things of higher value typically last longer," Sagstetter said.

But David DeBona, a technical consultant in Columbus, Ohio, said he prefers to see new releases sooner rather than later. "With the current licensing scheme, the previous delivery time allowed some corporations to upgrade within their assurance period. Delaying the release could possibly push people out farther and potentially cause them to not renew," DeBona said.

The users also welcomed Microsofts commitment to the new graphics architecture, hot-swapping technologies and richer storage system in Longhorn. Allchin said the company will show a set of managed APIs this year that will let developers access a new three-dimensional graphics architecture.

Microsoft is also working on new patching technology, with the goal of progressing to a stage where it feeds into hot patching, "because itll be simpler for us to make a fix and keep the system running without changing as much code," Allchin said. On the storage front, Allchin said the company is working on a richer heterogeneous storage system that could issue flexible queries.

Source4s Persinger said a heterogeneous storage system could have serious value to IT in the future.

"But Microsoft is famous for overlooking a few of the grass-roots basics when their mouths begin to water over a new idea," Persinger said. "The entire goal behind my network structure, and any other network administrators, is the maintenance, protection and manipulation of data. In essence, Microsoft will begin playing with my companys lifeblood, and I dont really see any administrator worth their salt immediately jumping ship."

Storage developments such as these could take administrators to the next level of how they manage corporate data but—just like prior migrations—have the potential to be devastating if not thought out properly, Persinger said. But administrators and other users also want Microsoft to address issues around how the system will work with current and past technologies, as well as address expectations for capacity and processing power.

"We all know there will be downsides, but its always nicer to read about a side effect rather than experience it firsthand," Persinger said.

For his part, Kernel Softwares Sagstetter welcomed the inclusion of a 3-D graphics architecture in Longhorn, saying his company has a number of engineering and graphics clients who do heavy 3-D work, "so every little bit helps there. However, it depends on what is the technology under development, how is it implemented and whether it helps applications authors without changing their applications."

While 3-D graphics technology is important given its relevance to many companies primary business functions, such as printing, Source4s Persinger said it should not be accorded the same priority as issues such as security and stability. "I think Microsofts best bet in this arena will be to focus on integrating 3-D technology gradually. The same goes for the advancements in peer-to-peer applications," he said.

But there is a lot more to be done in addition to these new technologies, users said. Microsoft needs to concentrate on additional patching and security technologies, as well as on remote desktops and continuing to improve self-healing and self-diagnostics. Because the Windows platform is increasingly considered for Web server farms and application farms, the ability to self-heal and patch without significant service loss would position Windows to truly take on the Unix world, DeBona said.

"The .Net arena gives Microsoft the opportunity to lead and innovate, and to some extent they have listened to customer needs. However, follow-through and implementation remain to be seen, but Im hopeful they have turned the corner and are headed in the right direction," DeBona said.