Life After Win 2k

NEW ORLEANS (05/08/2000) - The Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) is Microsoft Corp.'s annual bash for hardware makers. There, it talks about what's coming up and how developers can design new hardware to take advantage of new capabilities. It's one of the best places to learn about Microsoft's future directions for WindowsLast year, the buzz was the upcoming Windows 2000 family. This year, Microsoft revealed its strategy for the operating system that will follow Win 2k in 2001 - a product code-named Whistler.

Bill Gates said Whistler will be a general-purpose operating system family aimed at business (as is Win 2k) but also suitable for individuals. He also discussed the forthcoming Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me), the consumer operating system at the end of the development line for the Windows 95/98 family.

Goals for Windows Me and Whistler are faster boot-up, compatibility with Universal Plug and Play, enhanced stability and reliability, and far simpler usability and installation.

These operating systems are being designed for ever-greater emphasis on multimedia and digital content delivery. Here's what's in store:

-- Digital audio and video, with audio used in multiple, interactive ways.

-- Simpler connectivity, with Bluetooth wireless networking replacing many cables.

-- More integration of digital images and Web publishing.

-- Abandonment of legacy systems and peripherals.

-- Reliance on better connections such as Universal Serial Bus and IEEE-1394 serial bus.

-- Self-repairing systems that protect themselves against applications that install unapproved system files.

-- Automated downloading of operating system updates - but without automatic installation.

-- Always-on, broadband Internet access as the primary source of content of all types.

Carl Stork, general manager of Microsoft's Windows hardware strategy group, laid out plans for Windows development in the next two years.

He said the number of transactions will soar, "and any transaction not handled well is lost business." However, "[our] ability to predict transaction load accurately will decline." What's needed, said Stork, is the capability to add capacity quickly, without interruption.

The main goals are reliability and scalability, and Microsoft is attacking these issues from many angles.

Scalability - the ability to increase or decrease processing capability to handle changing workloads - can be accomplished in different ways.

One, which Microsoft calls "scaling up," means going for a bigger computer - more processors, more memory and eventually a 64-bit architecture. With this approach, the software operating environment doesn't change as it scales up.

But making changes can interrupt normal operations.

Another option, called "scaling out," involves adding servers - often dedicated to one or two functions - or server clusters. With the right tools, the system can be managed as if it were a single machine.

This means less-expensive expansion without interruption. A key element in this approach will be a new product, AppCenter Server, that targets reliability and scalability. It will enable application replication, load balancing and monitoring of performance and health.

Except for some details, Microsoft's story this year was almost the same as last year: Computers are too hard to use; they need to be better, faster, more robust, more secure and more scalable. Last year, the answer was Win 2k. Now Microsoft tells us the "Next Big Windows" will do a better job.

One question remains for information technology managers: Do I migrate my (clients/servers) from (Windows 9x/WinNT/Unix) to a newer Windows version? The answer is important for IT, and it's critical for Microsoft. But right now, Gates and company are Whistlering in the dark.