I can guarantee that nothing causes greater panic amongst US computer types visiting Europe than confronting the wild and weird keyboard layouts that some countries have. At least in Great Britain, we have a layout similar to the US keyboard--the pound sign (£) is on Shift-3 rather than the hash key, but apart from that, the keyboard is fairly plain sailing.
Look at a French keyboard, however, and you face a different alpha key layout. Instead of the top row going QWERTY, it goes AZERTY. And that's just the beginning of the changes. Germany favours a different layout, QWERTZU. One glance at what happens on the number keys above the alpha keys will bring out a cold sweat, and I've seen people spend at least five minutes looking for the backslash key, which can require pressing the Alt-Gr key to the right of the spacebar.
The situation gets even worse when you realize that many Europeans actually like to run the US version of Windows and Office, but then use local keyboard drivers. Moving around amongst different offices in different countries to be confronted with software you know and love (and understand) gets quite confusing if you have no way of getting it to do what you want.
Help is at hand: Windows NT 4.0 brings in the Windows 95 feature of multiple national-language keyboard drivers, and this feature is well worth investigating. To use it, just go to Control Panel, select Regional Settings, and choose the Input Locales tab. Here, you can add new locales, and the list of available drivers is most impressive. You'll even find a hot-key arrangement to let you cycle round the available locale settings, and an indicator setting that appears on the taskbar.
Once you install the drivers, changing amongst keyboard layouts is simplicity itself. However, you must bear in mind one subtlety: Each application has its locale, so running the Excel keyboard in English and the Word one in French, or some other layout is perfectly possible. Obviously the physical keyboard will remain in one language layout--the days of LCD-embedded keytops is still some way off.
So, if you are installing NT 4.0 into a multilingual environment, take the extra effort to install at least one extra layout, and make it the generic US and UK keyboard driver. If your company is in four countries, install all the drivers. That way, users can work at the machine, touch typing from memory, and still be productive straight away.
Nice TechEd 96
Most of the 1996 European TechEd conference in Nice, France, was dedicated to the Internet. One effect of Microsoft's tardy entry into the Internet arena is that the company now has to get a huge amount of information to developers in as short a time as possible. The result is an inevitable information overload.
Some great Internet products were on show. The outstanding Greg DeMichillie, leader of the team developing Visual J++ (code name, Jakarta), showed us all just how far Microsoft has come in compiler development, and careful questioning of Chris Williams, Microsoft's business unit manager for developer tools leads me to conclude that the chances of Visual Basic 5.0 being compiled rather than interpreted are very high indeed.
Of most interest was the final keynote by Steve Madigan, Microsoft's director of Windows NT program management. At long last, someone from Microsoft has admitted that the company and all of us are heading for one version of Windows. The only question remaining on everyone's lips is which version will survive. Let's just say that the core of this one Windows for all will be the NT kernel. I can hear your sighs of relief from where I sit now. Actually, any other course of action would have been ridiculous in the extreme, but hearing it said was reassuring.
The roadmap? Well, Windows NT 4.0 is slated to be available in August, and that'll couple to an OEM refresh of Windows 95. Nashville, the Internet add-on for both NT 4.0 and Win95, will follow later this year. In 1997, expect the next versions of NT and Win95, code named Cairo and Memphis, respectively. Then, circa 1998, we'll get one Windows for all.
What's on the way? Among a whole host of things, NT Server 5.0 will have Domain Name System (DNS) support vastly superior to NT 4.0's. NT File System (NTFS) in NT Server 5.0 will get a content index and support for Hierarchical Storage Management (HSM) and volume management, a 64-bit VM, a service to address lookup, and multiple name spaces. NT 5.0 Directory Services will share a technology with Microsoft Exchange. The Directory Services will be unified with the NT security database and will provide catalogues for efficient querying and browsing.
A whole bunch of other buzzwords began flying around at this point. My notes include some of them, such as multisite, hierarchical, replicated, and extensible.
Security? Cryptography API (CAPI) 2.0 (beta will be in the third quarter of 1996) will add certificate functions and will expand on CAPI 1.0 with functions such as parsing, storage, coding and decoding, searching, abstraction, and verification. Speakers also touched on Kerberos (or Cerberus--Secret Key) and Public Key Certificates for Authentication, and the universal resource locator (URL) name space. As Madigan pointed out, the top level of the URL name space is currently whatever protocol you have to use, be it http, Gopher, or ftp. The next level down is the server, and then you're stuck with one protocol and using links to work your way around the name space. His prediction is that unification of the name space is inevitable. Finally, DNS in NT 4.0 will be fairly basic, limited to integration with Windows Internet Name Service (WINS), admin tools, and file server DNS names. NT 5.0 will see a standard dynamic DNS update, integration with the directory for machines and domains, and secure update. The end of the line is that DNS will be the top-level directory service in NT 5.0. Interesting times are coming, and they're coming pretty fast. Stay tuned for more in the next enthralling episode, next month.