Microsoft: Let the 64-bit era begin

Microsoft will attempt to bring Windows into the 64-bit era with a bang on Monday, unveiling its long-awaited 64-bit versions of Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP client. It will also show off the progress it has made with Longhorn and detail the role it will play in helping make 64-bit technology and advanced mobility common place.

In his keynote address at the company's annual Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), Chairman Bill Gates will give a flashy demonstration of Longhorn. He will highlight the benefits of the operating system's 3D graphical interface and he will show how desktop users can still manage, sort, and view meta data and then organize that data into virtual folders across their systems using just the Windows shell, despite the absence of the Win/FS file system from Longhorn.

"I think what will surprise people the most is that the functionality associated with WinFS can also be delivered through the Windows shell. This technology can be used by all of Windows file explorers like My Documents or My Pictures. In Longhorn you will be able to richly organize and query meta data that is automatically tied to these (file explorers)," said Greg Sullivan, Lead Product Manager in Microsoft's Windows Division.

The various transparencies, shading, and richer animation capabilities of Longhorn's graphical interface that will be featured in the demo are not glitz for glitz's sake, because these improvements are designed to help users to "collect, organize, and visualize data in a way that is not possible today," Sullivan said.

The biggest drawback to not having Win/FS present, however, is that there are no APIs present that would allow corporate and third-party developers to write applications that fully exploit the advantage of the technology, Sullivan said.

The 2,800 people expected to attend this week's show will get a copy of the developer's preview release of Longhorn, although it will not contain any of the 3D graphics or data management capabilities demonstrated during Gates' keynote. This latest build is intended more to accommodate developers and hardware manufacturers who write device drivers for Longhorn, according to company officials.

Gates will also "offer guidance" to what the desktop hardware requirements will be to run both the 32- and 64-bit versions of Longhorn with good performance. A Longhorn-ready PC will need 512MB of memory, a Pentium processor considered to be "mainstream" by today's performance standards, and a graphics card that supports the new LDDM (Longhorn Display Driver Model).

"If your machine meets the requirements of the existing Windows XP logo program, your users will have a good experience. The differences in hardware requirements between the 32-bit and 64-bit versions will not be that different as far as RAM and video are concerned," Sullivan said.

Gates will reiterate that Microsoft is still on track to ship Longhorn in time for the 2006 holiday season, although he will not announce a specific date. Sullivan did suggest, however, that in order to make that timeframe, Microsoft would have to finish its development work well in advance of that time period in order to have enough time to manufacture the retail product as well as get it onto hardware makers machines.

Declining to comment on when Longhorn would be available, Sullivan said that Windows will celebrate its 20th Anniversary on November 18 of this year.

In related news, Microsoft will also make updates to its Windows Logo Program. The program will now have two tiers, Gold and Silver. To qualify for a Gold Logo, hardware makers must deliver a system that exploits Longhorn's more advanced capabilities in some meaningful way. To earn a Silver Logo, manufacturers must generally deliver a system that has the hardware needed to run the upcoming operating system with good performance.

Also during his keynote, Gates is expected to show off several prototype mobile devices that will take advantage of a number of technologies built into the new 64-bit versions of Windows and Longhorn, including Instant On features and non-volatile RAM.

One such device is a Tablet PC that is "as thick as 10 pieces of paper" and supports touch and voice commands, a 9-in diagonal screen, an all-day battery life, and meets all the requirements for a Longhorn-ready PC, according to Sullivan. He said the unnamed manufacturer expects to price the system in the US$500 to $800 range and that the system would be available in late 2006 or early 2007.

Gates will show off another Tablet PC that features a hinge that slides up and down, making it easier for users to put the system in Tablet mode, eliminating the need to open, twist, and close the device to do so.

A third prototype is a laptop with a small, second screen on its lid that can display information such as a schedule telling users where their next meeting is or that they have received an important e-mail from a client.

As expected, Microsoft this week will ship three versions of the 64-bit version of Windows Server 2003 including a Standard Edition, Enterprise Edition, and Data Center Edition. The 64-bit desktop version is called Windows XP Professional x64.

Microsoft officials will caution that the desktop version is not intended for everyone and will be primarily positioned and marketed to higher-end workstation users involved in data or graphic-intensive applications such as designing airplanes or oil drilling.

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