During his keynote address at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) 2004 in Seattle Tuesday, Microsoft Group Vice President Jim Allchin updated attendees on the company's client and server product plans for the next two years. Allchin also declared the coming product waves to be part of what Microsoft calls "the experience economy," where only those products that think through end-to-end experiences will be wildly successful. Allchin called out non-tech industry companies such as Starbucks as innovators of the experience economy.

"Experience thinking is the way to the next segment of growth for us," he said, "and innovation leads the way." Allchin noted that people now expect seamless experiences in non-traditional computing environments, including while on vacations, while being entertained, and while exercising. And for computing to move into these new environments, the entire ecosystem will need to focus on fundamentals such as silence, cooling, size, weight, and self-healing. "Experience computing is solution-centered, person-minded, and focused on experiences," Allchin noted. "It's about sites and sounds, feel, and emotion. Today, the devices that are evoking the most emotion in people are the most popular ones."

Experiences, Allchin said, will focus on the "doing," or the entire flow of events that a user will need to perform in order to succeed at a task. In Microsoft's current operating systems, these experiences include the Windows XP photo acquisition and management system and the roles-based management tools in Windows Server 2003. "But we need to do much more," Allchin said. And in the upcoming waves of products Microsoft will issue through 2005, he noted, the company will do just that.

On the client side, 2004 will be a big year. First, Microsoft plans a Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) release in late summer that will focus on what Allchin calls "safety" features, primarily security updates that will make the underlying system more resilient and reliable. XP SP2 will beget three major new client releases, XP Tablet PC Edition 2005 (codenamed Lonestar), XP Media Center Edition 2005 (codenamed Symphony), and XP 64-Bit Edition for 64-bit Extended Systems, the latter of which targets AMD-64 and upcoming Intel-based x86-64 systems. Microsoft will also ship Windows CE 5.0 and new versions of the Smartphone and Pocket PC operating systems in 2004, Allchin said. Additionally, the company is planning a "media experiences wave" this year that will include a major new version of Windows Media Player that supports "Janus" subscription-content synchronization with portable devices, a major revamp of MSN Music, Portable Media Centers from a variety of third party hardware makers, and Windows Media Center support for Media Center Extenders, set-top boxes that will remotely access Media Center Content.

Allchin reiterated that Longhorn Beta 1 will ship in 2005, and demonstrated some exciting Longhorn capabilities using recent builds (4067 and 4069) of the alpha version operating system, highlighting capabilities such as the Avalon 3D subsystem and the Indigo communications subsystem. Longhorn, Allchin said will integrate the "three magic ingredients" of fundamentals, scenarios, and people. "That's what Longhorn is all about," he added. During a demo, he showed Longhorn playing 6 high-resolution videos simultaneously while playing Quake III Arena in the background; a comparable XP system was unable to play four of the videos simultaneously. Allchin also demonstrated an interesting migration tool that can optionally use an upcoming smart USB cable to transfer personal data from an existing PC to a new Longhorn-based PC.

On the server side, Microsoft will ship Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 (SP1) in late 2004, which he said would include all of the safety technologies from XP SP2 and some unique server-specific features. Windows 2003 SP1 will be followed by Windows Small Business Server 2003 SP1 and Windows Server 2003 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems, and Virtual Server 2005. In 2005, Microsoft will deliver Windows Server 2003 Release 2 (R2, which he referred to as "Windows Server 2003 Update"), Windows Small Business Server 2003 Update, a new version of Windows Storage Server (codenamed "Storm"), and Longhorn Server Beta 1. "Longhorn Server is now generally aligned with the Longhorn client," Allchin said, referring to recent scheduling changes; originally, Longhorn Server was going to ship sometime after the Longhorn client.

Longhorn didn't discuss the schedule past Longhorn Beta 1, but in previous roadmap talks he placed Beta 2 at a year after Beta 1, which means we can expect Longhorn Beta 2 in early 2006 and, potentially, the final release in mid- to late-2006.

Day 2: May 5, 2004

WinHEC 2004: Microsoft Revises Longhorn Graphics Requirements

While Microsoft didn't announce general hardware requirements for Longhorn at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) 2004 this week as expected, representatives from the company did reveal that the graphics card requirements for the upcoming system have changed since they were first revealed at WinHEC 2003 last year. Furthermore, Microsoft revealed details of Longhorn's so-called tiered user experience, dubbed Aero.

"The Aero user experience is a generational leap over what's available today in Windows XP," Kerry Hammil, a Program Manager on the Avalon team said during a graphics session at the show Monday afternoon. "There will be two discrete levels of user experience in Longhorn. As the graphics hardware becomes more powerful, the user experience becomes richer in discrete steps."

These levels, or tiers, are currently called Aero and Aero Glass; last year they were simply referred to as the Tier 1 and Tier 2 user experiences. The default Aero user experience is built on the low-level Longhorn graphics application programming interface (API) dubbed Avalon, and will require a DirectX 9-compliant 3D graphics processor with at least 32 MB of RAM and an AGP 4x bus; Aero will require a resolution of at least 1024 x 768 (XGA), compared to 640 x 480 (VGA) for today's Windows versions. Last year, Microsoft announced DirectX 7 compliance as a baseline for Longhorn, but Hammil defended the change. "By 2006, DirectX 9 will be baseline functionality," she noted, adding that it will be impossible to find DirectX 7 cards in two years anyway. "Machines with graphics hardware that doesn't meet this Aero bar won't qualify for the [Designed for] Longhorn logo."

Aero Glass, the higher-end user experience, will be a true superset of Aero and come with higher hardware requirements. "Aero Glass will provide a beautiful user interface experience, with transition animations. Window frames will be a bit blurry and translucent, making text easier to read. Transparencies and animations will be hallmarks of the Aero Glass user experience, with more modern, high quality visualizations than with [standard] Aero." Aero Glass will require a DirectX 9-compliant 3D graphics processor with at least 64 MB of RAM, though 128-256 MB of RAM will be recommended.

In addition to the two tiered Avalon-based user experiences described above, Longhorn will also support a legacy Classic display mode that will resemble the Windows 2000 user interface. This mode will support all of the non-UI-related Longhorn technologies, so Longhorn applications will still run fine in Classic mode. Microsoft is providing this mode for upgrades that don't meet the minimum requirements for Aero, and for corporations that would prefer not to retrain users as they migrate to Longhorn.

Day 3: May 6, 2004

WinHEC 2004: Microsoft Merges Tablet PC Future into Wider Mobile Computing Vision

Say what you will about the Tablet PC, but Microsoft isn't giving up, and upcoming versions of this often-misunderstood technology will meld with other mobile computing devices and, ultimately, become a mainstream product. That's the new plan at Microsoft, anyway: Once seen as a laptop alternative, Tablet PCs will soon give way to a range of mobile PCs that meet all customers needs, a sharp departure from the niche products PC makers released until recently.

"The Mobile Platforms Division [at Microsoft] was formerly the Tablet PC Division," said Darin Fish, the Business Development Manager for the Mobile Platforms Division. "We reorganized so we could have a greater focus on the mobile PC, not just the Tablet PC. What we found working on the Tablet PC is that much of the platform work we were doing was benefiting all mobile PCs. The challenge was getting [that technology] to all mobile PCs. We're still the same group, and we have one team focused on mobile PC fundamentals, and one that's very focused on pen and ink."

Fish laid out Microsoft's mobile PC schedule for the next three years. Tablet PCs, he said, had evolved from premium ultra-portable notebooks PCs in 2003 to being more of a feature of notebook PCs, a trend that will continue through 2005. "We're going to see Tablet PC functionality begin to be incorporated as a mobile feature in mainstream notebook PCs," he said. Starting in 2006 with the Longhorn product wave, mobile PCs will adapt to meet every customer need and will slowly overtake the desktop PC form factor. PC makers shipped 38 million mobile PCs in 2003, but Microsoft expects that figure to grow to 63 million units by 2006.

As a software company, Microsoft creates the underlying platform that runs Tablet PCs and other mobile PCs, and the company is predictably planning a series of updates that will dramatically improve that platform for users. Late this summer, Microsoft will ship Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005 (code-named Lonestar), a free update for all Tablet PC users that adds a dramatically enhanced Text Input Panel (TIP), with context-sensitive handwriting recognition and other new features.

Its Longhorn-era plans, however, are far more exciting. Though Microsoft hasn't yet determined which of these features will be included in the base Longhorn product line, and which will only be available on Tablet PCs and notebook computers, the list is dizzying. The company will beef up the product's fundamental features, such as power management, multi-monitor support, and the like. But it will also be working on a slew of new functionality, including:

Auxiliary Displays. Next-generation mobile devices will include small external displays on their covers that will let users view personal information management (PIM) data at a glance, without having to open or turn on the device.

Device and File Synchronization. Using Longhorn's integrated Synchronization control panel, users will be able to synchronize data between their PC and Tablet PC, notebook computer, PDA, portable audio devices, and other portable devices.

Communication and Collaboration. Longhorn will make it easy for users to quickly set-up ad-hoc wireless networks for file sharing, and discover people who are connected near you. It will also provide a way to connect with wireless projectors, with one-to-one and one-to-many support for wireless connections between PCs whose users wish to collaborate in real time.

Mobility Center. Microsoft is planning an Activity Center called Mobility Center for Longhorn that will include all of the mobility tuning features in the OS, all in a central location.

Location Awareness. Though the details of how the system will accomplish this are currently in flux, Microsoft plans to add location awareness to PCs with Longhorn, so that your system will behave and look differently when you're at home, at work, at school, or at other locations.

Pen/Shell integration. Longhorn will natively support ink files names: Click on an icon's name with the stylus, and just write the file name normally in your own handwriting. A simple wizard will let you supply examples of your handwriting so that the handwriting recognition engine only compares created file names against your writing, and not the millions of samples the engine currently uses.

Snipper and Flick utilities. A a new pen gestures feature (codenamed Flick) will allow you to perform certain actions with a Tablet PC stylus that aren't writing or control selection activities. For example, you could set up gestures for copy, paste, back, forward, undo, and delete activities. Another pen utility, codenamed Snipper, will bring the Microsoft Snipping Utility Powertoy into the base OS.\

Pen Optimized Skin. For a new generation of small, 5-inch to 8-inch, Tablet PC devices that will begin shipping this year, Microsoft is developing a dashboard page that will provide access to PIM information that users need, all in a single, handy page. The Pen Optimized Skin presents time and calendar information, links to recently accessed documents and applications, the 7 most recent unread email messages, the most recent uncompleted tasks, and the links to your most often used applications. This skin is designed to sit on top of, and generally replace, the basic Windows user interface on devices whose screens are too small for a desktop UI.

Day 4: May 7, 2004

WinInfo Short Takes, WinHEC 2004 Special Edition

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other WinHEC 2004 news...

Microsoft releases Longhorn Build 4074 to WinHEC attendees, MSDN
Microsoft finally released an updated pre-alpha build of Longhorn to testers this week, build 4074, which went out to Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) 2004 attendees and MSDN Universal customers (via download) this week. I've got the first two of what will likely be many Longhorn build 4074 screenshot galleries available now on the SuperSite for Windows, and of course I'll have a full review as soon as possible.

Microsoft Verifies, Updates XP Reloaded Plans
Various Microsoft representatives verified this week that "XP Reloaded" will be a marketing campaign aimed at rejuvenating consumer excitement in Windows XP, a product that has evolved dramatically since its initial release in October 2001. Set to run from October to December 2004, XP Reloaded will focus on new XP versions such as Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 and Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005, as well as various product updates that will ship in late summer/early fall, including XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) and the next major version of Windows Media Center, and add-on products like Portable Media Centers and Media Center Extenders. What's changed is that Microsoft originally planned to have separate marketing campaigns for XP SP2 and XP Reloaded; now SP2 will be marketed as part of the XP Reloaded campaign.

Microsoft Pumps 64-Bit Computing, Asks Partners for Drivers
Dubbing 64-bit computing the "future of mainstream," Microsoft representatives, including chairman Bill Gates, used this week's WinHEC 2004 show as a platform to get developers excited about the 64-bit Windows versions that will ship late this year, including Windows XP 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems, and Windows Server 2003 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems. Both OSes will target AMD-64 and Intel x86-64-based hardware, and will for the first time offer all of the features of their 32-bit brethren (previous 64-Bit Windows versions didn't, dropping features like Windows Media Player). However, these new 64-bit OSes versions will have one major limitations that will, for the time being at least, limit their appeal: Hardware driver support will be minimal until third party manufacturers step up to the plate and get going with 64-bit drivers (Today's 32-bit drivers won't work). And that means 64-bit systems will be pretty useless for mainstream users, again, at least for the short term.

Microsoft Refutes Palladium Rumors
Microsoft this week refuted a bizarre report in CRN that stated that the company was dropping support for its Palladium technology (also known as Next Generation Secure Computing Base, or NGSCB). "NGSCB is alive and kicking," a Microsoft representative said. The technology will still be an optional piece of Longhorn, and will require specially-made PCs, which include security-oriented chipsets. Sorry, rumormongers.

At WinHEC, Microsoft Focuses on the Future, Not the Worm-riddled Present
As many pundits have accurately noted, this week's WinHEC trade show was long on sweeping long-term changes that Microsoft executives would like to see happen to the PC platform, but it was short on information about the problems facing today's PC, including the seemingly unrelenting series of electronic attacks we suffer from on a regular basis. Part of the problem, I suspect is the constant delays Microsoft faces with XP SP2, which was original due in the first half of 2004, but was recently set back to late summer 2004 (though I'm hearing "July" might be the new date). XP SP2 will solve a lot of security problems--and bring a host of compatibility problems as well--but like Longhorn, it's still mired in "future technology" territory as I write this. How 'bout shipping it sometime this century, eh?

HP's Updated Athens PC Concept Continues to Impress
At last year's WinHEC, Microsoft and HP introduced the Athens PC, which a prototype design that combined hardware and software in ways that weren't previously tried. Then, in November, the companies showed off a second-generation Athens PC design that actually utilized real-world HP hardware, showing that the prototype was quickly on the way to becoming a reality. This year, at WinHEC 2004, the companies showed off Athens PC generation three, dubbed "Troy," which now features a Longhorn user interface, but still retains the prototypical elements of past designs, like a breakout box for currently unassigned functionality, like a docking bay for a PDA. There was also a "Hermes" mobile PC prototype, basically a notebook version of the Athens design. Cool stuff, and a nice future for business computing if it ever comes together.

Wanna Know Why Microsoft Doesn't Improve IE? It's Your Fault
I've been stressing for months over Microsoft's refusal to improve Internet Explorer (IE) by embracing modern Web standards and adding user-requested features like tabbed browsing, but I think I've finally figured out the problem: Microsoft isn't going to fix IE when it is still the most-often-used Web browser by far, with its next nearest competitor bringing in Mac-like market share numbers. And that, folks, is the problem: By continuing to use IE, every one of you are allowing Microsoft to continue its policy of ignoring a product that, frankly, needs a lot of work. So if you're serious about seeing Microsoft improve this aging clunker, maybe the best solution is to start using something else. I recommend Mozilla Firefox.

Gates Fined $800,000
Microsoft icon Bill Gates has agreed to pay an $800,000 fine for failing to disclose an investment in Icos, a Seattle pharmaceutical company, according to an announcement by the US Department of Justice (DOJ). Because Gates is on the board of directors for the company, he's required to comply with federal antitrust premerger notification requirements. In case it's not clear, this fine has nothing to do with Microsoft's antitrust woes, though people often seem to have trouble separating Gates from the company. Here's how you tell the difference: Gates is the Bond villain, and Microsoft is the death ray he uses to threaten humanity.

WinHEC 2004 Photo Gallery

Here are our pictures from the show!

Jim Allchin WinHEC 2004 keynote address

Janet, Mike, and Paul go 3D.
Microsoft Group Vice President Jim Allchin touts Experience Computing.
Jim Allchin.
Windows Client roadmap 2004-2005.
Windows Server roadmap 2004-2005.
Scenarios Microsoft is targeting for Longhorn.
Alpha version of the Longhorn Files and Settings Transfer Wizard.
Longhorn user interface.
Longhorn Sidebar.
XP driver model fails the multiple video playback test.
Jim Allchin runs a Longhorn demo.
Longhorn driver model passes the multiple video playback test.

Bill Gates WinHEC 2004 keynote address

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates.
Bill Gates.
Gates on stage.
Chart comparing Windows 2000 and Windows Server 2003 vulnerabilities.
Microsoft Research's Jim Gray.
Windows XP Media Center concept, showing a contact calling on the phone.
XP Media Center concept, showing details of contact information.

Athens PC third generation concept

Athens PC concept, schedule view.
Athens PC concept.
Athens PC concept, showing breakout box for additional functionality.
Close-up of Athens PC concept breakout box.

Graphics on the Windows Desktop (WinHEC Session)

Sample Avalon application with Sidebar panel.
Kerry Hammil discusses Aero, Aero Glass.
Aero Glass hardware requirements.

PC Trends in the Home (WinHEC Session)


PC design trends: Visual simplicity.
PC design trends: Serenity.

Windows for Mobile PCs and Tablet PCs - CY05 and Beyond (WinHEC Session)

Tablet PC release schedule.
Longhorn mobile PC strategy and plan.
Mobility Center, a Longhorn Activity Center concept.
Tablet PC future concept: Auxiliary displays.
Longhorn device and file synchronization user interface.
Ink file names in Longhorn.
Tablet PC future concept: "Flick".
Tablet PC future concept: "Snipper".
Tablet PC future concept: Pen-optimized skin for smaller tablet devices.
Tablet PC future concept: Location awareness, with school and home skins.

Big Bash at Experience Music Project

Experience Music Project (EMP), exterior.
The Space Needle. 
Iain McDonald, playing with 3 Storey Head. 
3 Storey Head. 
Keith and Paul at the EMP Big Bash. 
Paul and Joe at the EMP Big Bash. 
3 Storey Head. 
Fascination Street Band (The Cure cover band). 
Beatles memorabilia. 
Original lyrics to "Lump" by The Presidents of the United States. 
Space Needle, night.