64-bit computing touted at WinHec

A clarion call by Microsoft Corp. for 64-bit software support topped a slew of announcements at its recent 2004 Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHec) held earlier this month.

The Winhec event is designed to allow hardware makers and driver developers learn about upcoming Windows technologies. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates urged hardware makers to direct focus on creating drivers now for the upcoming 64-bit releases of Windows.

Microsoft is well aware that 64-bit applications aren’t likely to function correctly without the corresponding 64-bit drivers. To that end, the Redmond, Wash-based software firm is providing driver and software development kits through its Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) subscription service. Hardware incompatibilities will only serve to hamper the adoption of 64-bit computing, Gates said.

Microsoft also announced that it has synchronized development efforts for the client and server versions of Longhorn, the code name for the long anticipated Windows software release. This goes against announcements the company made in 2003 that there would be a two- or three-year gap between the Longhorn client and server. In a keynote Jim Allchin, vice-president of Microsoft’s platforms group, noted that the Longhorn client and the Longhorn server are tied together.

But the actual release date of Longhorn is still far on the horizon. Microsoft execs have pointed to 2006 as the release year for the product, but Allchin did not give a target due date for the client or server version of the software.

Also, Microsoft has yet to report if aligning development of the Longhorn client and server also means that the applications would be released simultaneously but announced that the first beta of Longhorn is slated for an early 2005 rollout.

Eddie Chan, a hardware research analyst for Toronto-based IDC Canada Ltd, said while still considered practical only for enterprises that process large amounts of data and memory, Microsoft is pushing the timeframe for when 64-bit is the de facto standard. Microsoft intends for 64-bit Longhorn to be the “new base” for computing, Chan said.

Microsoft said it plans to support for x64processors from AMD and Intel. Hardware vendors such as AMD and Intel Corp. are banking on the growth of 64-bit to jumpstart a sluggish PC market. Both companies have reported plans to push 64-bit chips during Longhorn’s release. On the server, 64-bit will be common sense within the next couple of years and also on the desktop users will want to reap the benefits of the capabilities, according to Microsoft.

The 64-bit Windows Server ports will appear along with SP1. The products will include Windows Server 2003 Extended Edition for AMD 64-bit Extended processors and Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition for Intel’s 64-bit Extended and Itanium processors.

It’s no secret that a critical issue with the Windows platform has been buffer overflow exploits. On the client side, Microsoft is preparing to ship Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP 2) later this summer.

According to Elliot Katz, Windows client product manager for Mississauga, Ont.-based Microsoft Canada Co., XP SP2 offers improved security in the areas of improved network protection, memory overflow, improved e-mail handling and more secure Internet browsing.

For example, SP2 features a new Security Center UI, a dashboard that displays a PC’s security features. The new Internet Explorer now features a pop-up blocker, Katz said, adding the new (SP2) security features are expected to appear in the upcoming Windows 64-bit product.

There is a heavy emphasis placed on security, Katz said. The new Windows Firewall (formerly Internet Connection Firewall) now monitor outgoing connections as well as incoming, allowing users to enable network access per port.

For 2004, the Redmond, Wash.- software maker plans to ship Windows Server 2003 64-bit Edition for Extended Systems; Windows Server 2003 Service Pack (SP) 1; Windows Small Business Server 2003 SP1; and Virtual Server 2005. Next year’s server road map offers a Windows Server 2003 Update; Windows Small Business Server 2003 Update; and a new Windows Storage Server, code-named Storm, according to Microsoft.

Other releases planned for this year include an updated Windows Media Player; Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005; Windows CE 5.0; and Windows XP 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems.

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