WinHEC: Down to Business

The launch of 64-bit computing will provide the flash at Microsoft’s Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), slated to be held in Redmond on April 25 to 27.

With Longhorn expectations pared down and the expected ship date now some time in December 2006, OEMs and partners still have time to get their Longhorn-compatible stuff in the pipeline.

AMD plans to take a starring role. It’s shipped 64-bit processors since 2003, but it hopes that the introduction of Microsoft’s Windows Server 2003 x64 Edition and Windows XP Pro x64 Edition operating systems will push the pricey next-generation chips to home and office desktop machines.

Intel also has put its muscle behind the new architecture, exhorting attendees at the Intel Developer Forum to start developing for 64-bit immediately.

For its part, Microsoft has been pushing 64-bit computing since Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates began to rally the troops at the last WinHEC conference in 2004.

That’s not to say that ubiquitous 64-bit computing is around the corner, according to Burton Group analyst Peter O’Kelly.

“We already have an embarrassment of riches in the desktop,” O’Kelly said, and the horsepower businesses and consumers already have will keep most of them from rushing to upgrade their hardware.

“In Longhorn, it will be the graphics processors driving displays that will blow people away,” he said. Therefore, the first wave of 64-bit adopters will be gamers and creative professionals like graphic designers and video editors.

However, as the cost of memory continues to plummet, the combo of massive memory and 64-bit processing will fire a wave of more powerful applications that will attract users. Mainstream take-up of 64-bit will happen, O’Kelly said, “when the norm is a terabyte for that PC you’re picking up at Wal-Mart, having a processor to take full advantage of it will be important.”

O’Kelly put that era at three to five years out.

At WinHEC 2005, Microsoft will lay out more detailed roadmaps for servers, storage, mobility, networking and the Windows client. Longhorn still is expected to support both 64-bit and 32-bit computing.

The company will provide more details on its virtualization technology. At the Microsoft Management Summit on Wednesday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the company would make serious investments in Virtual Server 2005, which it expects to ship by the end of 2005.

The Longhorn roadmap looks a lot different than it did at WinHEC 2004, when Gates and Windows head Jim Allchin said it would integrate a new storage and file system, WinFS, the 3-D graphics capabilities of Avalon and Indigo, the messaging infrastructure based on Web services. WinFS will now be delivered separately, its development lagging behind that of the Longhorn client.

WinHEC attendees will receive at least a partial “pre-beta” build of Longhorn; attendees of the 2004 conference received an alpha build.

Microsoft will not take its eye off the security ball. Expect more announcements about Microsoft Network Access Protection (NAP) program, a multi-vendor initiative to build in policy enforcement to a variety of products. Phoenix Technologies, maker of BIOS and other firmware and security products, will announce it’s signed on.

Phoenix will spread its “Longhorn-ready now” message to OEMs at the show. It recently shipped a new suite of tools for more secure networked computing called TrustedCore. At the conference, it will announce an update to TrustedCore that supports Longhorn’s security features.

“We specifically designed this version to prepare new computers for Longhorn,” said Robert Wise, vice president of Phoenix’s core system software group. He pointed out that his company’s OEM customers are now in the process of designing the products that will be sold in 2006 and 2007 — the Longhorn era.

The other part of the WinHEC story is mobility. Microsoft is readying Magneto, the code name for Windows Mobile 5 operating system for smart phones and PDAs. Magneto is rumored to contain RIM BlackBerry-style push e-mail and enterprise messaging functions. Executives will likely pull out prototypes of next-generation devices for business, gaming and messaging.

Microsoft engineers will explain how to design devices that follow its PlaysForSure protocols, how to incorporate Web services in mobile devices via .NET, the protocols for cell phone connectivity in Longhorn and, boldly, its wireless vision beyond Longhorn.

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