VMware Answers the 64-Bit Question; Microsoft Improves Office 2003 and OneNote 2003

Last week's editorial about virtual machines (VMs) generated several email discussions, but the most frequent question I received concerned 64-bit computing. What are VMware and Microsoft doing to support 64-bit platforms with their VM environments? Although I'm still waiting for a reply from Microsoft, I was able to talk with VMware, and I think you'll be pleased with the response. First, VMware will support AMD Athlon 64 and Intel x86 64-bit (i.e., non-Itanium) platforms with new releases of all its virtualization products. VMware will release these products over the next 18 months, starting with a preview 64-bit version of its VMware Workstation product that should ship this summer. The company's 64-bit products will be compatible with all the 16-bit and 32-bit VMs rolled out on today's x86 systems, giving customers clear migration possibilities for the future.

Most interesting, perhaps, is the support VMware plans for 64-bit guests (i.e., software-based virtual environments). Over time, VMware will support every possible combination of 32-bit and 64-bit hardware and software, so eventually you'll be able to run 64-bit VM environments on both 32-bit and 64-bit hardware. This interoperability means that customers will be able to test 64-bit compatibility on their current 32-bit systems, before moving to new 64-bit hardware. This capability won't be available immediately, but I'm impressed that it's going to happen.

Wondering about Itanium support? VMware says it will monitor that market, but my gut feeling is that Itanium sales will never reach the volumes needed for VMware to support it.

Microsoft Improves Office 2003 and OneNote 2003
Last summer, I started using the beta version of Microsoft Office OneNote 2003 on a regular basis, and given my day job as a tech reporter, the note-taking application has become a staple of my daily workflow. In fact, by the time Microsoft shipped Office 2003 and OneNote in October 2003, I had already assembled a list of feature requests and changes I wanted to see. The problem was timing: As an Office application, OneNote typically wouldn't see any major improvements until the next Office version shipped, and that could be years away. When I met with the OneNote team during the launch, I delivered my list and was happy to hear that Microsoft was working on a way to deliver some OneNote updates before the next major Office release. Recently, I discovered that those changes would arrive as part of Office 2003 Service Pack 1 (SP1), due in June, and that Microsoft is addressing almost all my major complaints.

First, in OneNote 2003 SP1, you can now resize the tabs that represent pages and subpages; in the original OneNote version, the small tab size means that pages titled "MVP Summit: Keynote," "MVP Summit: Product life cycle," and "MVP Summit: Automated customer feedback" all display as "MVP Summi," which isn't descriptive. A subpage in OneNote 2003 SP1 will now pick up the first line of text on the page as its title; in earlier versions, subpages are blank, which is useless. And the new OneNote version will let you change the automatic date and time display that the program displays for each page; in earlier versions, you're stuck with the date and time when you created the page.

Microsoft also added features I didn't asked for, but which are nonetheless welcome. Pocket PC users will be able to perform one-way synchronization of Pocket PC Notes to OneNote 2003 SP1 (but not OneNote to Pocket PC Notes; nor is a Pocket OneNote application planned for this release). Microsoft will add Pocket PC Notes to a new OneNote section called, go figure, Pocket PC Notes.

OneNote 2003 SP1 also adds video recording to the original version's handy audio recording capability. OneNote uses Windows Media Video (WMV) to deliver an hour of high-quality video per 60MB of disk space and works with any video input device, including Webcams. Microsoft expects users to come up with some interesting uses for this feature; one scenario I was told about involved real estate agents recording visual inspections of buildings.

To address peer-to-peer note-taking scenarios, OneNote 2003 SP1 includes a feature that allows real-time note-taking that uses Microsoft DirectPlay technologies to let users connect to two or more remote users and brainstorm and take notes in real time. Everyone in the group can be in disparate physical locations, and everyone gets a copy of the notes when they disconnect.

The next version is also bringing lots of little changes, including performance tweaks and fix-ups. You can paste Microsoft PowerPoint presentations into OneNote and take notes on them as you would on the physically printed versions. The new version will make it easier to move folders and sections. Stationary will be easier to find and use, thanks to a new Stationary task pane; you can also create your own stationary for a custom look. Want to share notebooks? A new shared-notebook feature, which will work with various file-sharing schemes, makes sharing possible--with encrypted and password-protected sections if desired. Tablet PC users will appreciate numerous small enhancements, such as scratch-out (gesture) erasing, which will be more natural and act like a real eraser, and better Digital Ink performance. Microsoft has also added 15 more note flags (to the original 9) for better flexibility in denoting priorities.

In the next major Office version, we can expect even more exciting OneNote improvements, including background voice recognition, which will more accurately pick out the current speaker and shut out other background noises. But that release is likely 2 years away. In the meantime, Microsoft should release a public beta of OneNote 2003 SP1 by the time you read this. If you're a big OneNote user and fan like me, you'll definitely want to check it out.

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