WinHEC Presents a Smorgasbord of Betas
As expected, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates announced
the beginning of Beta 2 for three products key to the company's future
during his keynote at this week's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference
(WinHEC) in Seattle.
Attendees at the conference will receive the second beta test versions of Windows
Vista, Windows Longhorn Server, and Office System 2007. Additionally, the betas
will be available to participants in several Microsoft technology programs in
the next few days. However, the impatiently awaited official "broad consumer
preview," aka Beta 2 of Vista, that will be available to millions of consumes
will begin "in the next couple of weeks," executives said.
The company also made a number of announcements
around its virtualization strategy, which it announced Monday in the run up
to Tuesday's WinHEC, kick off. Microsoft has been holding its annual hardware
conference, which is primarily for hardware developers, system designers and
business planners, since 1992. This year's conclave drew a crowd of more than
3,500, the company said in a statement.
While there were no big surprises at the show, the sheer size of the marketplace
underline's WinHEC's -- and indeed, Microsoft's -- importance to hardware sales.
"Over 250 million PCs will be sold this year, and that's more than a 10
percent increase coming up from last year," Gates told the audience. "Over
the next three years we move to basically 100 percent [64-bit CPUs on desktops]
even on low-cost machines, and then mobile only lagging that a little bit,"
Interestingly, Gates and other Microsoft officials were careful to always say
that Vista will be available in "January," possibly to ward off fears
that Vista might slip later into 2007.
The company also showed off the Windows Server 2003 Scalable Networking Pack.
Available for download now, the Scalable Networking Pack provides the capability
to offload network processing tasks to a TCP Offload Engine-enabled network
interface card, leaving the CPU free to run applications.
"Depending on the server workload this could translate into a 20 percent,
up to 100 percent, reduction in the CPU overhead related to network packet processing,
with up to a 40 percent increase in throughput," Ian Hameroff, senior
product manager in Windows Server marketing told the crowd.
"[The networking pack] enables TCP Offload Engines (TOE) hardware to
be deployed while maintaining application and network management compatibility…and
will be useful both to customers receiving new servers with TOE NICs, and to
customers who have older servers and are interested in extending the lives of
the servers by adding a TOE NIC and the new Microsoft software," say statements
on Microsoft's Web site.
Longhorn Server Beta 2 will go out to more than a half million testers, including
Microsoft TechNet and MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) subscribers, beta testers,
as well as customers and partners in Microsoft's Technology Adoption Program
(TAP), officials said.
A third beta will come in the first half of 2007, followed by final release
in the second half of the year, Bob Muglia, senior vice president of Microsoft's
Server and Tools Business, told the gathering. Beta 3 will be "feature
complete," he added. However, officials say few functions remain to be
added -- for instance, Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) is present
in Beta 2 but is "not fully integrated yet," according to Microsoft
officials. (See "Microsoft
and Federated Identities: The Road to Single Sign-On," August 16, 2005.)
Meanwhile, customers interested in kicking the wheels on Office System 2007
can go here.
Gates also demonstrated a production-ready hybrid hard drive (HHD) from Samsung
that combines flash NAND memory caches with a large disk drive to dramatically
speed system bootups as well as to conserve battery power. It will work with
Microsoft's ReadyDrive software for Windows Vista, which was created specifically
for the HHD. The two technologies combined yield 20 to 30 minutes of increased
battery life and, because the drive is spun down whenever it is not in use,
improved reliability and ruggedness, officials said.
The two companies showed off a proof
of concept of the HHD at last year's WinHEC. Samsung will start sampling
the production drives next quarter and will ship HDDs in quantity for inclusion
in Vista notebooks by January, the Korean company said in a statement.
Microsoft also announced the release of Beta 2 version of WinFX and the corresponding
Go-Live license for its components, both available to developers on MSDN. WinFX
is a core part of Vista that includes the Windows Presentation Foundation, the
technical underpinnings of the Aero user interface. The Go-Live license enables
customers to deploy applications for Windows Vista using any or all of the key
technologies of WinFX -- Windows Presentation Foundation, Windows Workflow Foundation,
Windows Communication Foundation and "InfoCard," the code name for
a technology Microsoft says is designed to simplify and improve the safety of
accessing resources and sharing personal information on the Internet -- before
the final release of WinFX.
Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.