Windows XP gets a breezy welcome

More than 600 journalists and industry representatives gathered late last month at a downtown Toronto golf course to hear Microsoft executives tout the security and reliability of the new Windows XP operating system – but most found it hard to concentrate on the presentation.

High winds rattled the walls of the big-top tent at the City Core Golf Course, while organizers scurried to move the event indoors. But, as Microsoft Canada president Frank Clegg illustrated, the show must go on.

“The tent people are here, in case you are wondering, and they say not to worry about it (the wind),” he said, after watching people stare at the ceiling and the walls for much of the presentation.

“We’ve taken the strength of the NT code base and combined it with the ease of use, the wide array of drivers and the extensive support for peripherals offered by the Windows 9x [Windows 95 and 98] code base,” Clegg said. “We believe the opportunity over the next 10 years will have more of an impact than the last 50 years. It is the move from the mainframe to the PC.”

He continued by saying that XP is “10 times more reliable” than its predecessors Windows 95 or 98, which is important because “the PC is now becoming a critical part of life.”

“We’re giving the best of both worlds,” he told the group. “The challenge as an individual is that I have to point the devices to the application. The opportunity here is to start to consolidate that. For example, let’s take all the log-ons and consolidate that.”

A string of industry executives from Telus, Compaq, Intel, Dell, HP and others joined Clegg with presentations showing XP and its spin-off benefits, often with pulsing strains of XP’s theme song Madonna’s Ray of Light in the background.

David Booth, president and general manager of Compaq Canada Corp., said his company was proud of its relationship with Microsoft.

“You can say it’s not too often that hardware managers get together and agree on strategies, but we are here today hand and hand with Microsoft,” he said.

Microsoft may need that kind of support, said Alister Sutherland, director of software at IDC Canada, because of a “climate of sharply curtailed external spending in business, particularly around IT.

“We are seeing for the first time in the IT industry an actual decline, negative growth, in hardware sales,” he said, adding that the decline creates two major problems.

First, if new hardware sales are suffering, operating systems sales will inevitably suffer because the new OS frequently comes bundled with new hardware.

“That’s a definite inhibitor to adoption rates,” Sutherland said. “The second one is the hardware requirements for XP as compared to the earlier versions of Windows. It’s a hassle and any company that has hardware that doesn’t quite match the stats will have no incentive to adopt XP. I think it is going to slow down adoption rates from what Microsoft hoped.”

But Microsoft may be able to find its ray of light if customer testimonials concerning security are all the company hopes they will be, he added.

“If Microsoft can prove that the security features built into Windows XP are really solid, really working, then I think that will help to drive adoption,” Sutherland said. “But that is going to take some testimonials. The other good stuff is the bundled stuff that comes with it, which is, critics be damned, that stuff’s great. You don’t have to go anywhere to find that now.”

That’s what John Davies, vice-president of the solutions group at Intel Corp., said he is counting on.

“We sell all our products over the Internet and we buy…over the Internet as well,” Davies said.

But the publicity surrounding the upgraded security may be the very thing that will bring trouble, said David Hindawi, CEO of BigFix in California. He said he is planning to help users with new operating systems by launching an automated technical support solution.

“The XP launch will bring various software and hardware conflicts,” he said from his office in California. “This is typical of any OS launch. If past experience is any indication, I think there will be security-related things that will pop up. XP is doing a great job of securing it, but that only invites hackers to try it.”

Hindawi said he also expects installation issues and software conflicts, which he calls “unavoidable.”

“As much as Microsoft is trying to find out about all the various configurations that XP will work in, there are still hundreds of thousands of millions of configurations they have not tested,” he said. “There also will be some communication glitches. Those are the kinds of things that will come up.”

Microsoft will also have to try to prove there is something substantially different about XP, Sutherland added. How different is Windows XP user experience, from the cosmetic point of view, from versions of Windows 95 and forward?

“Not very different,” he said. “It all works within the same kind of paradigm that Windows 95 works from. I’m not saying that the underlying technology isn’t light years ahead, but try and tell that to an end user.”