Gates Launches x64 Editions, Shows Longhorn UI

SEATTLE -- Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates on Monday launched the x64 editions of Windows and gave a public preview of the much-anticipated Windows "Longhorn" user interface at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC).

The x64 editions are Microsoft's versions of Windows designed to support AMD Opteron and Athlon 64 processors and Intel processors with EM64T. The technologies differ from the Intel Itanium 64-bit technologies, which have been supported by dedicated versions of Windows for several years. Microsoft on Monday formally launched Windows XP x64 Professional Edition, Windows Server 2003 x64 Standard Edition, Windows Server 2003 x64 Enterprise Edition and Windows Server 2003 x64 Datacenter Edition.

Gates reiterated his longstanding view that the transition from 32-bit to 64-bit computing will be smooth and rapid.

"Whenever we run out of memory, it gets messy," he said of all previous transitions, including attempts to stretch memory available to 32-bit systems. "Now we're getting the very clean way of doing it, and that always triumphs."

He said the majority of new server shipments will support 64-bit extensions to the x86 architecture in 2005, and that the technology will be mainstream in PCs next year.

"We're going to see this be quite rapid, particularly on the server," Gates told the audience, which consisted primarily of independent hardware and software vendors. Database server applications are the most obvious area that benefits immediately from x64, Gates said, but added that Windows Terminal Services improvements were a surprise to Microsoft. "One of the most dramatic improvements [came in] Terminal Services -- 2.7 times increase. That's way greater than we would have expected."

"On the client, it will take more time. You'll have the top 20 percent of demand scenarios moving very rapidly," he predicted.

Internally, Microsoft has seen significant improvements in its own 32-bit applications running on Windows x64 editions, Gates said. "[Some] 32-bit apps get a full 4 GB for themselves, whereas in the past they would have gotten a fraction of that," he said.

Gates also highlighted some of the other enhancements in the x64 editions aside from the performance boost from memory increases. Chief among them is the support for a no-execute bit in all 64-bit processors. The combination of support in the hardware and in Windows means "malicious code can't get executed," Gates said. "It defeats a very large class of exploits."

Several demos showed the exponential scalability improvement made possible by x64 Windows in computer graphic rendering and SQL Server 2005 extraction, transformation and loading and workload management.

Another set of demos marked the public debut of the "Aero" graphical user interface, which is a major new feature of the Windows "Longhorn" operating system planned for release in 2006. Microsoft's current plans call for at least three levels of user interface, depending on an end user's hardware. The most graphic-intensive version is called "Aero Glass," followed by a baseline "Aero" version and finally some type of classic view.

Demos showed the translucent windows in Longhorn and three-dimensional "carousel" views of files. They also showed the new application icon model for Longhorn. Rather than a "W" icon for a Word document, the Longhorn UI will present an icon that shows a miniaturized representation of the first page of that document. The icon for a folder will show a collection of miniature pictures of the first pages or image files of the top files in the folder. According to Microsoft, the approach will improve users' ability to navigate their way to their own files.

Microsoft also debuted a Longhorn client feature called virtual folders, which automatically collect documents based on logical connections between them. For example, one virtual folder will collect all available documents. The documents aren't moved to the folder, they can merely be accessed through the folder. Users can drill into virtual folders with a new Group By feature to narrow searches by document author, keyword or other attributes.

Several demos showed off Longhorn's vector-based graphics that allow for rapidly resizing applications and icons on the desktop. Resizing also will be an option for high-DPS applications. For example, if an end user is running a high-resolution workstation application and wants to check e-mail or run Microsoft's Calculator, those more standard applications often show up in a way that is too small to work with. In Longhorn, users will have the option of magnifying an app like Calculator by two or three times.

After watching several demos, Gates joked, "Whenever I see those demos, I think, 'Gosh, let's just get Longhorn done.'"

He then detailed Microsoft's plan for selling Longhorn to the market in advance of its projected holiday 2006 launch. The pre-beta version distributed at WinHEC is intended to engage ISVs and IHVs. A Beta 1 version planned for this summer will mark the beginning of Microsoft's efforts to reach out to IT administrators with Longhorn. The Professional Developers Conference in October will be aimed at increasing developer interest in Longhorn. The Beta 2 release, ETA unknown, will be aimed at end users, Gates said.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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