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Where Microsoft wants to take you tomorrow

Where Microsoft wants to take you tomorrow

There is a belief that says that, as second-guessing Microsoft is a sport now practised on five continents, it is now eligible for inclusion in the 2000 Olympics.

And why not - it is also a sport that few people are particularly good at.

The company that once chose to ignore the Internet is well on the way to dominating it. That same company shunned the idea of thin client computing, but has now embraced it, teaming with the leading players and looking set to take leadership there too.

And the very company that analysts blame for sparking the whole total cost of ownership (TCO) debate (thin client/NC versus fat client/Wintel) is now talking the talk like it wrote the book on TCO.

But while spinning an entire company on a dime may be a neat trick, it is a sideshow compared to what Microsoft has been able to do in the desktop arena. Brad Howarth spoke to Microsoft's Windows marketing manager, Peter Moore, to find out where the software giant wants to take usTwo years on, Microsoft has 32 reasons to cheerFact. Microsoft Windows has won the war of the desktop. By all reports OS/2 is rapidly moving into niche territory, and the more cynical among us would suggest that Microsoft had to throw Apple a lifeline just to keep the US Justice Department from its door. Even the supremacy of Unix in the workstation market is being challenged by a Windows NT/Intel Pentium II combination. Altogether that makes a pretty strong argument for desktop domination.

No wonder Peter Moore is smiling. He can now proudly say that two years after the introduction of Windows 95 2.5 million copies have shipped. Based on Microsoft's own research he can also say that 56 per cent of companies in the 20 to 1000 PC range are running that OS. In the over 1000 PC space that figure falls to 43 per cent, but also shows 16 per cent to be running Windows NT.

Domination

That means that more than 50 per cent of all desktop in corporate organisations are now running 32-bit Windows. It seems while Douglas Adams may have proclaimed 42 to be the answer to life, the universe and everything, Microsoft is happy to settle for ten numerals less.

Moore says he has seen tremendous growth in uptake in the last six to 12 months. "We believe the reason for that is because organisations take 12 to 18 months to deploy technology," said Moore. "And given that Windows 95 came out two years ago, what we've seen in the last six months is a tremendous uptake in terms of the installed base."

As for the growth of Windows NT in this space, Moore feels it is due to companies spending a few extra dollars when it comes time to turf out their 486s. "They are buying a Pentium with 32Mb of RAM - that's the default PC that organisations are buying to replace their older PCs. And they're great for running NT Workstation on, and they often come with NT workstation on them."

Microsoft has even been able to spin a 32-bit upgrade argument based around TCO. Moore says Microsoft is making no secret of the fact that over comparative lifetimes in the corporate environment Windows NT has a cheaper running cost than Windows 95. At the same time, he says the cost of upgrading RAM from 16Mb to 32Mb is negligible.

"Even taking account of the extra cost of hardware and software, it's actually cheaper to run NT Workstation in a corporate environment, because of the extra security, robustness and administerability," said Moore.

Further warming Moore's heart is the news that for the first time Microsoft's leading distributor Tech Pacific has nothing but 32-bit product in its list of the 10 hottest selling titles.

Moore points to the games market as a further reflection of the dominance of 32-bit operating systems.

Without the fanfare

While most of the operating system hype is centring on Windows 98, not too far beyond it lies the release of Windows NT 5.0. While the release of Microsoft's higher-end OS has traditionally met with minimal fanfare, the release of NT 5.0 does promise to give us a taste of what Microsoft has in store for the next millennium.

An immediate enhancement of Windows NT 5.0 is it will be notebook-friendly, with the inclusion of support for plug and play and power management.

Games-oriented

It will also be more fun (remember that slogan?), and integration of DirectX technology means it will run the latest games.

Of greater long-term importance will be the unveiling of the Windows Driver Model. The WDM will see Windows take over a lot of the functions commonly found in a PC's BIOS, in order to better manage how software accesses the hardware.

"And that's the key in terms of being able to deliver better drivers, and being able to deliver a more administrable system," said Moore.

"The WDM will be common across both Windows 98 and Windows NT 5.0. People who write drivers will now be able to write to that common driver model. And that's going to be really good for NT 5.0, because a driver can be written to support Windows 98 under the WDM and will automatically work under NT 5.0 as well."

WDM is important for Microsoft's long term strategy. It has already announced that Windows 98 will be the last iteration of that technology, in favour of an NT-based platform. That effectively spells the end for a number of 16-bit drivers in the marketplace.

Moore says it is Microsoft's belief that by the time it releases an NT-based consumer OS (around 2000) there won't be the requirement to support the old DOS applications and drivers.

Looking ahead

"At that stage we'll have a range of operating systems based on the Windows NT kernel," said Moore. "So where today we have NT Workstation, NT Server, and NT Server Enterprise Edition based on the same kernel, we'll have a Windows NT variant for the home market as well, which will have everything in it that people want.

"We're not hiding the fact that NT is really the direction of all of our operating systems. So if they want to make an investment in the future, then Windows NT is the correct investment."

Moore says Microsoft is making investments of its own at the server end, in terms of scalability and providing the sorts of directory services it believes are required.

"The directory services that ship with Windows NT will be a key part of the way that we address TCO, because the configuration information that traditionally was served up and provided on the desktop will now be resident on the server," said Moore.

"All the users' information will be up on the server, and when a user moves from one machine to another, they'll have exactly their own desktop, their own applications, and their own documents."

On the drawing board

More importantly, they'll be able to have their own data resident locally, regardless of the machine they work on. Moore said that Microsoft is currently working on replication technology called Intellimirror, which will allow for simultaneous storage of data.

"So if that PC goes up in smoke, you need to be able to move over to another workstation and continue to work," said Moore.

"It's not going to be reliant on the user saving files, because it needs to be more fundamental than that. It's going to be a fundamental part of the operating system, it's going to be running in the background, and it's going to offer you the best of both worlds - local data for performance, and server resident data for manageability and robustness."


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