Taking the first steps in an ambitious attempt to gradually shift the entire computer industry over to a single, unified operating system, Microsoft on Monday released a Beta 2 version of its Windows XP operating system here at WinHEC 2001, the company's annual hardware conference.
Greg Sullivan, a lead product manager at Microsoft, also revealed that by the end of the year Microsoft will roll out a full suite of XP operating systems that will eventually replace all of Microsoft's current OSes, including the recently released Windows Millennium and Windows 2000.
Although Microsoft will continue its support for Windows 2000, Sullivan said the upgrade path for Windows 2000 is Windows XP Professional and that companies should not wait to begin working with Windows XP, even if they continue to deploy Windows 2000.
Likewise, a Windows XP Home Edition will eventually replace the recently released Windows Millennium Edition. A 64-bit edition of XP will also arrive later this year for client terminals attached to 64-bit servers, as well as an embedded version of XP, Sullivan said.
The server-based components of Windows XP will likely ship sometime in 2002, Sullivan said.
Although users aren't required to upgrade to Windows XP anymore than they're required to upgrade from Windows 95, Sullivan strongly suggested that companies begin to get a feel for the new OS.
"If you are evaluating Windows 2000 right now, even if you're well down the path of installing [Windows] 2000, keep going. [Windows 2000] and XP are designed to co-exist," Sullivan said.
But a unified operating system across all devices is Microsoft's ultimate vision, said Tom Laemmel, a product manager for the Windows consumer division in Redmond, Wash.
According to Sullivan, Windows XP is "not the next version of Windows but a whole new Windows." However, the core kernel of the XP is essentially the Windows NT kernel, he said.
The advantage of having a single Windows NT-based operating system running every type of computer system is simplicity, Laemmel explained.
"With XP, companies have one platform to support, which is more reliable and [supports] all of the connected peripherals, all without the legacy issues from the earliest PC days," Laemmel said.
Tony Iams, a senior analyst at D.H. Brown Associates in Port Chester, N.Y., said the industry will benefit from the reliability of an NT-based OS, but the rest of the gains are all Microsoft's.
"[Microsoft is] going to be pushing this and pushing this hard," Iams said. "They really want people to go to Windows XP."
Iams said Microsoft has been planning unification onto a single OS for many years, mainly because "[Microsoft's] quality of life will be a lot easier with one code base."
Corporations caught in the middle of deploying Windows 2000 shouldn't be worried about Microsoft pulling the rug out from under them, Iams said.
Even with the availability of Microsoft XP Professional later this year, "[Microsoft's] focus won't be on moving corporate customers to XP," Iams said.
"The fact that the server portion of XP won't be available until later is a sign that [Microsoft] won't go immediately after the corporate customers," Iams said. And because XP is based on the NT kernel, corporate network administrators that do transition to XP will already be familiar with much of the OSes behavior, Iams said.
Wireless connectivity will also be greatly improved by an industry transition to XP, Laemmel said. Users moving from one 802.11 wireless LAN to another will be recognized faster if both networks are running XP, making it easier for users to roam from one network to another -- access permitting.
Help desks will also benefit from some of the features of XP. Versions of the operating system will offer a feature called "Shared Desktop" that allows users to permit other users to manipulate their PCs over the Internet. Shared Desktop puts a third-party, remote user in control of the PC interface, sparing the user the time and aggravation of having to explain a problem verbally over the phone when the help desk cannot see the problem, Sullivan said.
On hand at the show, Steve Goddyn, a technical leader at Trisignal Communications in Montreal, doesn't believe his company will transition to XP anytime soon.
"Microsoft wants us to buy into it, but we probably won't," Goddyn said. Instead, Goddyn and his company will continue to run Windows 98 as their PC platform of choice, he said.