Mon Apr 25, 5:04 PM ET
SEATTLE -- Microsoft on Monday steered into its third decade of computing, launching 64-bit Windows XP operating systems and providing a glimpse at the next major revision of Windows, code-named Longhorn.
The setting was the opening of the 14th annual Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, an industry gathering for component and system manufacturers, core logic, consumer electronics and application vendors. In outlining Microsoft's server and client operating system roadmap, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates not only gave direction to the hardware OEMs but also positioned the vendor against future competitive battles with the likes of Google, Linux and Adobe.
In his keynote address, Gates noted that Windows is about 20 years old, and that DOS and 16-bit computing dominated the first decade, followed by Windows 95 with 32-bit computing. The introduction of 64-bit and multi-core computing will create new inflection points and is the start of the third decade, he said.
"This is the decade where we can have the most impact of all," Gates said. "The pervasiveness of digital approaches. The kind of capabilities that we've finally achieved are things that have been talked about for many decades. It's really common sense now for business to be done in a digital way. Entertainment. Scheduling. Purchasing. The foundation work for the 64-bit addressing and the software runtime that allows you to connect not only a browser to any website but you can connect any piece of software to another piece of software to a website across the Internet. Like those new web services standards that are coming into the platform allowing these news applications. So this is the decade of greatest importance. This is the one of greatest competition, and greatest opportunity. That's why you see us putting in greatest levels of R&D into Windows."
Moving to 64-bit will have many benefits, and it will happen more rapidly than any previous transition, Gates said, noting that 32-bit applications will continue to run on 64-bit Windows machines. There will "dramatic improvement" in Windows Terminal Services with 64-bit, he said. The added memory will make a big difference in Active Directory, in technical computing and gaming, and database applications, he said. Nonetheless, "We will go through a period where Microsoft and others will release both 32- and 64- bit versions of their applications."
A Windows product manager showed a computer animation demonstration, editing on the desktop and rendering on the server, using both 32-bit and 64-bit. The 64-bit significantly had greater color, texture and detail. "The limits of 32-bit have been forcing artists to make compromises," said Microsoft's Jay Kenny.
The specific 64-bit products that Microsoft announced Monday are Windows XP Professional x64 Edition, and Windows Server 2003 x64 for Standard, Enterprise and Datacenter editions.
"We are very proud of this release," Gates said. "It is the base upon which we will build Longhorn."
Microsoft is promising several 64-bit products this year: SQL Server, Visual Studio 2005, Commerce Server 2006, Host Integration Server 2005, Biztalk 2006, and Services for Unix.
For next year, Gates promised a continuing rapid rollout of 64-bit versions including Windows Longhorn Server, Exchange Server 12, Microsoft Operations Manager, Virtual Server v2, and Windows Server "Complete Cluster Edition."
"We're making it standard for us that everything has to be in 64-bit as we get new releases," Gates said.
Longhorn is the next major revision of Windows and it is clearly the company's next huge area of investment. "It's very broad what we are doing," Gates said. "You have to go back to Windows 95 to see the broad set of things we are doing." He praised the new OS' ability to organize information by using transparency and visualization and said it had a beefed up graphics and display infrastructure.
In a demo of Longhorn, a new file type was shown called "live thumbnail icons." These were live snapshots showing the content of folders. Other folders were called "Virtual Folders" because they were dynamic, not static, and could be compiled based on a search metadata keywords.
"Underneath the covers there's a lot going on with Windows, including the new display driver model that enables some of those things we demonstrated," Gates said.
Gates pledged to turn Longhorn, which is still about 18 months from shipping, into its most widely marketed product ever. Longhorn would be the benefit of "more marketing than anything we've done in the past," Gates said. He said there would be an ambitious "Ready for Longhorn" logo program for Microsoft partners, and he urged developers to "start planning now."
In a nod to the hardcore PC hardware enthusiasts in the audience, Gates showed several prototype portable and Tablet PCs, including models from HP, Toshiba and Acer. One new feature he highlighted was an auxiliary display, a small screen that appears on the outside of a laptop and shows simple entries like calendars or e-mail. It's designed to give quick access so the user doesn't have to open and boot up a laptop to retrieve some information.
Gates also showed a paperback-book sized device he called the "Ultra Mobile 2007." Gates described it as costing less than $1,000, weighing less than 2 pounds, and having a camera, phone, music player, and video player. He said it was "complimentary" to a PC, not a replacement for one.
Sponsors of WinHEC represent a wide section of the hardware industry including ATI, Broadcom, HP, Intel, Lexar, SMSC, and VIA Technologies. The conference, at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center about 25 miles West of Microsoft's ever-expanding headquarters in Redmond, Wash., continues through Wednesday and includes scores of technical tracks. Among the high-level sessions are those with titles such as "Redefining the PC Opportunity," "Connectivity and the Future of Computing," Trends and opportunities in for Tomorrow's PCs." There were 2,625 attendees, representing 500 companies and 42 countries.
"Ultimately, these foundation advances will end up helping customers," said Marshall Brumer, director of Microsoft's Windows hardware platform evangelism. "This is our opportunity to work together and partner and look to the future."