Q&A: Microsoft Windows Enters Its Third Decade

SEATTLE, April 25, 2005 — At the 2005 Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) this week, Microsoft announced availability of Windows XP Professional 64-Bit Edition and Windows Server 2003 64-Bit Editions, a milestone that promises to help move businesses and consumers to faster, more secure and powerful operating systems. As Windows enters its third decade, Microsoft views 64-bit computing as a significant industry shift, one that will raise the speed limit on performance and offer customers equally compelling gains in scalability, security and reliability.

For insight on what Microsoft is doing to help usher in a new era of computing, why Microsoft is betting on 64-bit technology, and what relevance this has for the rest of us, PressPass sought out Jim Allchin, group vice president of Microsoft’s Platforms Group and a member of the company’s Senior Leadership Team. Allchin’s perspective on the subject is drawn from his 15 years of helping to set direction at Microsoft.

Jim Allchin, Group Vice President, Platforms

PressPass: What’s the significance of the new editions of Windows that Microsoft announced today at WinHEC?

Allchin: The move to 64-bit computing is incredibly exciting. This is only the third time we’ve seen a shift of this magnitude in the history of the PC industry. We saw a similar leap forward in performance when we migrated from 16-bit architectures to a 32-bit architecture in the 1990’s. As 64-bit computing becomes the norm, it’s going to deliver huge benefits in terms of performance, security, reliability and scalability, initially for enterprise servers and technical workstations, but soon for consumers as well. We believe this industry move will be the easiest to date, because the 64-bit versions of Windows we’ve developed allow customers to run 32-bit as well as 64-bit applications. It’s a best-of-both-worlds model that lets customers integrate new and more powerful technologies at their own pace without having to risk their current technology investments or abandon their existing systems and applications.

PressPass: What’s driving the need for 64-bit performance?

Allchin: On the server side, we hear three things from customers. One, they’re experiencing increased memory demands from databases. Two, they need more processing capability for faster rendering of computer animation. And three, they need more performance for high-throughput server applications, such as Web hosting. On the client side, the need for performance isn’t as overwhelming right now, but it’s fueled primarily by business customers who are solving complex scientific problems, running high-performance design and engineering applications, analyzing financial data and so forth. A 64-bit environment also makes a big difference for digital content creation and editing scenarios, for example, creating 3-D animation, editing video and encoding high-end digital media. And gaming, of course, always pushes architectures to the limit. But regardless of the driving factors, our goal is to be ready when our customers are ready — and we’re hearing that this time is now.

PressPass: How is the shift to 64-bit technology playing out in other areas of the PC industry?

Allchin: Microsoft is working hard to bring 64-bit computing into the mainstream, but we’ve got a number of industry partners helping us usher in this new era of computing. As a result, a solid ecosystem is in place. For example, more than 400 64-bit applications are either ready today or in development. An array of chips and drivers are already available for 64-bit systems. In addition, our partners are delivering new hardware for servers and clients. So you have the applications, the chips, drivers and the hardware, all aligned. The operating system is the fourth leg of the table. That means our timing is just about perfect.

PressPass: As Windows enters its third decade, what goes through your mind when you look back over the past 20 years?

Allchin: When I look back, I’m amazed by how much Windows has evolved over the past 20 years. We’ve come a long way from the PC as a hobbyist toy to its being part of the fabric of society, and Windows has been instrumental in making that happen. Even being as close as I am to the product, it’s hard to recall the days when the PC world operated from a command-line interface. But that was the case when Windows 1.0 came out in 1985, though in all fairness the GUI didn’t become real until 1990 when Windows 3.0 arrived with the horsepower of the 386 processor behind it. I joined Microsoft in 1990, so I was around when we delivered the first version of Windows NT, based on an entirely new 32-bit architecture. Then in 2001 with Windows XP, we made the Windows NT kernel the foundation for the mainstream consumer version of Windows. I’m also amused when I think about the last 20 years, because people have been writing the Windows-based PC’s obituary at almost every turn. The cause of its impending death keeps changing with the times: UNIX workstations, graphics, consumer devices, network computers, cell phones, reliability, security, Linux. But in reality, our Windows business remains very, very good. And I think we’re still a long way from exhausting the PC’s potential for innovation and growth. Our initial vision was “A PC on every desk and in every home.” Now we’re envisioning a PC for every person and in every room – almost in every nook and cranny.

PressPass: What’s the most significant change you’ve seen in computing since the advent of Windows?

Allchin: I’d have to say the fact that computer power has moved out of the hands of the few in the backroom data center and into the arms of the many — what we refer to as driving the action to the edge of the network. That was a fundamental premise at Microsoft when Windows was created 20 years ago, right up there with the belief that Moore’s Law would lead to rapid technological advances. And it’s proven true. In 20 years, computing has been transformed from a scarce resource that only large companies could afford into a personal, powerful productivity and entertainment device for people of all ages and interests.

PressPass: What do you see when you look at Windows today?

Allchin: Today, the computer industry has reached an exciting inflection point marked by the delivery of 64-bit computing and the beginning of the third decade of Windows. Today, Windows is much more than just a product — it’s a platform for an enormous ecosystem of companies that provide hardware, software and services around the globe. Windows is now in most U.S. households, and it’s seeing explosive growth in other countries. I’m also thrilled every time I see Windows running on a new form factor, from Tablet PCs to entertainment PCs to whatever new device is in the process of getting invented. Today, Windows touches how we live by helping people get and stay connected. It touches how we work by helping people and businesses be more productive. And it touches how we play by giving us a path to a wealth of immersive entertainment experiences. The change in how people think about and use Windows also influences the way we at Microsoft think about Windows.

PressPass: And how do you envision Windows as you look ahead?

Allchin: I’m convinced that Windows will continue to shape the PC industry well into the future and that the growth and evolution of the Windows platform will be matched by an equally significant shift in the core technologies of computing. This is already happening with the shift to 64-bit computing and the rapid growth of storage, graphics power, and networking bandwidth. I think Windows operating systems will continue to make new technologies pervasive, just as they made technologies like GUIs, TCP/IP, browsing and USB ubiquitous in the past two decades. But as I said before, Windows is about computing for everyone. While I expect amazing technology advances, delivery new technology is no longer enough. At a high level, the next wave of computing is about creating experiences that tap into the passions people have in every aspect of their lives. Technology advances must enable end-to-end scenarios that help accomplish this. At Microsoft, we believe that computing will change our lives more in the next 10 years than it has in the last 25 years, and that the Windows-based PC in all its variations will be the centerpiece of a new wave of innovation. I’m especially excited about “Longhorn,” the next version of the Windows operating system that we’ll release in the second half of 2006. “Longhorn” will capitalize on 64-bit computing, a technology that we believe will affect system architecture for the next decade. I expect “Longhorn” to propel Windows to new heights and become a powerful foundation for new applications, new services and new customer experiences.

PressPass: Can you give us your take on “Longhorn,” as someone who’s been closely involved with its design from the beginning?

Allchin: “Longhorn” will incorporate significant advances for all our customers, including developers, IT managers, information workers and consumers. I think key to its success will be our strong focus on core fundamentals, in particular security, privacy, performance, deployment and manageability. “Longhorn” will fully support the new 64-bit architectures, as well as existing 32-bit hardware and applications, and it will be a platform that I believe will propel tremendous industry opportunity and innovation. “Longhorn” will also integrate a wide range of information management features related to organization and visualization, to help customers easily and confidently take control of the enormous amounts of data they have to deal with everyday. At this point, we’re focused on designing and building a solid core product, and that by itself is enough to keep us busy.

PressPass: What’s involved in bringing an operating system like “Longhorn” to life?

Allchin: Rolling out a new OS is without question a major effort. Think of the process as a reverse funnel that gets broader and broader over time. We start with developers because they have the longest lead time. We need developer feedback, so that interaction is incredibly important. We also work with the hardware community to make sure that drivers are tested and available. We started encouraging 64-bit driver development for “Longhorn” a year ago at WinHEC, and we’re doing more of it at this year’s conference. On April 27, we will distribute a developer preview of “Longhorn” to all WinHEC attendees; it is designed to accelerate development of hardware device drivers for the new operating system. Next, we will engage with IT professionals, who are critical to corporate adoption. They need to assess the product, test their internal applications, plan upgrades and so forth. IT pros will begin their evaluation of “Longhorn” with the foundation capabilities that are in the first beta version, which we expect to release early this summer. By the second beta release, we reach the point when we can expose the product to everyone else, and solicit input from both information workers and consumers. That’s when most of the new end user features and the user interface will typically show up in a product, and it’s the last big step before a product can be considered final. With “Longhorn,” we’re increasingly confident that the final OS will be ready to ship before the end of next year. In the meantime, we’re laying the groundwork for industry readiness and compatibility, so that all our customers will be able to take advantage of the advanced features in “Longhorn.”

PressPass: What benefits can customers expect from “Longhorn?”

Allchin: Customers can expect the kinds of benefits they’ve asked us for. As I mentioned before, with “Longhorn” our biggest investment is in PC fundamentals — basics like security, privacy, performance, deployment and manageability that make the system “just work.” “Longhorn” will be secure by design and will help corporations manage and isolate their networks more securely. People can also count on “Longhorn” to deliver powerful performance on mobile, desktop or server hardware, and to give them the responsiveness they need for priority system tasks. We’re also designing “Longhorn” to improve IT operational efficiency by focusing on simpler deployment, management and support or serviceability. This will lower IT costs. The area of innovation I’m most excited about in “Longhorn” is what we’re doing with information management. Every day people deal with an enormous mass of data coming at them and they need help making sense of it. “Longhorn” will do more than give customers better access to information; it will allow them to act on information in a meaningful way. We do this by helping people search for data, visualize it, and organize it in intuitive ways. We’re also doing a lot more with documents in terms of searching, organizing, and so forth. Overall, the goal is to give customers more confidence and more control, whether they’re seasoned IT pros or novice end users. We’re going beyond anything we’ve ever done up to this point.

PressPass: How does the “Next-Gen Windows OS PC Design Competition” announced at WinHEC relate to all this?

Allchin: As I mentioned, the next wave of computing is about experiences. Creating a great experience isn’t just about software. Hardware and software have to work together. Some of this is already happening, for example with the Media Center PC and the tablet, but there needs to be more. Tapping into people’s passions is inherently personal; computing has to connect with people on an emotional level. To do this we have to get way beyond software features and speeds and feeds. In terms of hardware, aesthetics, ergonomics, seamless into the environment and with the software are really important. People care about what their PC looks like, sounds like, and feels like. In this spirit, and in honor of the third decade of Windows, we’re inviting students, independent designers and established design teams to help us envision a future that’s based on experiences. The Next-Gen OS PC Design Competition is challenging this community to apply their wisdom and creativity in terms of industrial design to the form and function of next-generation Windows-based PCs.

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