During his keynote address at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) 2004 trade show in Seattle yesterday, Microsoft Group Vice President Jim Allchin updated attendees about the company's client and server product plans for the next 2 years. Allchin also declared the upcoming waves of new products to be part of what Microsoft calls "the experience economy," in which only those products that "think through end-to-end experiences" will be wildly successful. Allchin described nontech-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 nontraditional computing environments, such as when they're vacationing, being entertained, and 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 "doing"--the entire flow of events that users need to perform to succeed at tasks. In Microsoft's current OSs, 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 with the products Microsoft plans to issue through 2005, he noted, the company will do just that.
On the client side, 2004 will be a big year. First, Microsoft plans an 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 (code-named Lonestar), XP Media Center Edition (XP MCE) 2005 (code-named Symphony), and XP 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems, which targets AMD64-based systems and upcoming Intel-based x86 64-bit systems. Microsoft will also ship Windows CE 5.0 and new versions of the Windows Mobile-based Smartphone and Pocket PC OSs in 2004, Allchin said. In addition, the company is planning a "media experiences wave" this year that will include a major new version of Windows Media Player (WMP) that supports Janus subscription-content synchronization with portable devices, a major revamp of MSN Music Service, Portable Media Centers from a variety of third-party hardware makers, and XP MCE support for Windows 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 by using recent builds (4067 and 4069) of the alpha-version OS, highlighting features such as the Avalon 3-D subsystem and the Indigo communications subsystem. He said that Longhorn will integrate the "three magic ingredients" of fundamentals, scenarios, and people. "That's what Longhorn is all about," he added. He demonstrated Longhorn playing six high-resolution videos simultaneously while running 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 a current PC to a new Longhorn-based PC.
On the server side, in late 2004 Microsoft will ship Windows 2003 SP1, which Allchin said will include all the safety technologies from XP SP2 and some unique server-specific features. Windows 2003 SP1 will be followed by Microsoft Small Business Server (SBS) 2003 SP1, Windows 2003 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems, and Microsoft Virtual Server 2005. In 2005, Microsoft will deliver Windows 2003 Release 2 (R2--which Allchin referred to as Windows 2003 Update), SBS 2003 Update, a new version of Windows Storage Server (code-named Storm), and Longhorn Server beta 1. "Longhorn Server is now generally aligned with the Longhorn client," Allchin said, referring to recent scheduling changes; originally, Microsoft planned to ship Longhorn Server sometime after the Longhorn client shipped.
Allchin didn't discuss the release schedule past Longhorn beta 1. But in earlier 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.