Despite claims to the contrary by Microsoft and Intel, the next generation of notebook PC running the default power-management system in Windows 98 and Windows NT 5.0 will actually consume more battery power than its predecessor.
The Advanced Power Configuration Interface (APCI), which will replace the BIOS-based Advanced Power Management, or APM, is a core technology underlying Microsoft's OnNow power-saving and plug-and-play initiative. But so far, ACPI, which was created to give application developers more control of power management, is not looking like much of an improvement, a number of industry sources say.
"ACPI is an inferior solution, according to the guys I speak with at the technical level at the system vendors, because the amount of battery life will decrease," says Dean Welder, a senior product manager at Award Software, a system BIOS manufacturer, in Mountain View, California.
Welder's contentions were backed by another source familiar with the technology who asked not to be identified.
"I would confirm at this point in time in our lab tests [that] ACPI gives slightly worse time than APM," the source said. "We have discovered that ACPI is doing stuff, valuable stuff, but we have noticed a degradation in power."
Designed by Microsoft, Intel, and Toshiba, ACPI will create and control four power states for almost every internal component of a notebook. The four states, dubbed D0 through D3, are a continuum from fully-on to fully-off, with two levels of sleep modes in between. It will put notebook power management under the control of the operating system and application software rather than the BIOS.
The main culprit for the accelerated power loss is a lack of software support.
"Although the operating system will perform most of the work for OnNow, applications must be designed for power management to make the entire process appear seamless to the user," says Sriram Subramanian, product manager of Windows hardware strategy at Microsoft, in Redmond, Washington.
Of the ISVs contacted, most notably Lotus and Adobe, none except Microsoft currently have plans to implement ACPI in the next version of their applications. Microsoft's own Office group promises ACPI implementation in the next version of Office, which isn't due until 1999.
Despite the fact that ACPI was never submitted to any standards body for approval, it will automatically install itself in Windows 98, replacing APM, says Stacey Breyfogle, product manager at Microsoft.
Without software and component support, ACPI may be less than useful to a notebook system, one analyst said.
"In its raw state, having ACPI code not used, [it] becomes almost bloatware because it will be sitting there not utilised," says Gerry Purdy, president of Mobile Insights, in Mountain View, California. "It is only when it is actively used by the application software through the OS and the BIOS that it will truly affect the power consumption of the system."
Neither are the three creators of the initiative very reassuring about the proven capability of ACPI, which is still in development, compared to APM. One Intel representative said their tests, when comparing ACPI against APM, were "inconclusive" but that eventually ACPI would be better.
"We are doing testing in our labs as well. We see variability," says Jason Ziller, mobile platform marketing manager at Intel, in Santa Clara, California. "We are working with early software in the OS and ACPI BIOS and working out all the bugs. It takes a little bit of time to get to our ultimate goal to get to be better than APM. With any new technology there is a little bit of risk for the early adopters."
Microsoft officials say ACPI will eventually make sense to end-users and noted that developers can start to implement some power-saving capabilities.
"For example, in the next version of Office in FindFast, an indexer that works in the background, it will be turned off by ACPI when the machine goes into sleep mode," said Andrew Dixon, product manager of the Office group at Microsoft.
"We are getting parity or slightly better with ACPI at the moment," Dixon said. "We wanted at least that."
Toshiba, the third member of the coalition, concurred that application software holds the key to improved battery life.
"As software becomes OS aware, we will start to see the battery life improvement," says James Mason, director of architecture at Toshiba's worldwide product planning group, in Irvine, California. "With APM it has pretty much reached the maximum. To go further we needed to get the OS involved."
"For example, with a word-processing application, when you load a file to read you don't save it for five or ten minutes. So the app can say turn that hard drive off because it knows it just loaded the program and it won't be saving anything to the drive," Mason saiys
One Compaq representative says the company supports the ACPI concept, but that it will hold off on fully endorsing the technology until it completes its laboratory tests.
Meanwhile, Gateway is sticking with the APM roadmap.
"We are not showing any increase in battery life at all over APM," says Bob Moore, senior product marketing manager of mobile systems at Gateway, in North Sioux City, South Dakota, adding that Microsoft needs to do more work.
"Battery life is a very sensitive [buying] threshold," Moore says. "To essentially switch over to ACPI, I don't see the business case. If I knew that it was picking up 15 to 20%, it would be different."
"We are in a better position to decide when the motor power should be shut down," says Bill Healy, general manager of mobile storage business line management at IBM's storage division, in San Jose, California.
Numerous IT managers, none of whom were aware of the new technology shipping with Windows 98, feel as Moore does.
"If our users get another three to four percent points in battery life, and then when the notebooks go to another more powerful processor we'll lose it, so what's the point?" says one IT manager at a Fortune 50 company in the oil industry. "Maybe we should go to a [Windows] CE device to save the bucks, the weight, and get 12 to 30 hours."
That sentiment is echoed by another Fortune 500 manager.
"The goal remains to accomplish a full day's worth of work on one battery charge," the IT manager says. "Maybe when the subnotebooks with WinCE come out we can use them."
Microsoft's Breyfogle sees benefits of ACPI beyond simple power management.
"ACPI gives a consistency for computers because the OS is doing the managing rather than the BIOS, which is different for each machine," Breyfogle said.
IT managers choosing not to run ACPI will not be able to use Wake on LAN or Wake on Ring features controlled by the operating system, according to Breyfogle. Instead, the IT departments will have to use a BIOS that implements those system-management features and others coming in the future as ACPI plug-ins, she says.
Although some believe ACPI ultimately will be worthwhile despite its current shortcomings, analysts note that IT managers need to ensure that purchased software exploits ACPI.
"Right now, ACPI does not do as good a job for a very good reason -- there is no software to take advantage of it," says Jack Gold, program director at Meta Group, in Waltham, Mass.
"Do you buy for today or do you buy for the future?" Gold asks. "Bite the bullet if you are going to keep this machine for more than six or nine months. That will become an important component."
(Editor at Large Ephraim Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
SIDEBAR: Faint Praise
By Ephraim Schwartz
Thus far there's no application support for ACPI, the default power management in Windows 98 and NT 5.0.
No planned support: Lotus Notes, SmartSuite; Symantec Act; Corel WordPerfect Suite (undecided); Maximizer contact database
Will support: Microsoft Office 9, due in 1999
Maximizing OnNow for Windows
Here are Microsoft's top three recommendations to corporate programmers designing applications that take advantage of OnNow, the new power-management and plug-and-play features in Windows 98 and Windows NT 5.0.
(1) Implement support for WM_POWERBROADCAST messages and GetSystemPowerStatus. These capabilities are currently available in the Windows 95 OS.
(2) Plan to support Win32 API enhancements that enable applications to participate in OnNow. The extensions fill two roles:
-- Applications can learn from the OS about power events and status; and
-- Applications can tell the OS the application's requirements in order to influence power-management policy.
(3) Exploit upcoming Advanced Power Configuration Interface capabilities in task-scheduling applications, device-driven event-handling applications, and high-availability applications.