Microsoft Executive Vice President Steve Ballmer reached into the past to find his theme for his PC Expo keynote speech, giving an update and a blueprint for the future of the "Windows everywhere" initiative.
Ten years after Microsoft launched the Windows everywhere initiative, the software giant is seeing it come to fruition with compatible versions of Windows appearing on hand-held devices and terminals, 90 million units of Windows expected to be sold just this year for desktop and laptop computers, and Windows NT outselling Unix systems on high-end machines, Ballmer said.
During the keynote, Ballmer focused on showing off new capabilities for Windows on the extremes of the spectrum: on terminals and hand-held devices, as well as on NT servers.
Windows everywhere is a one-two punch, combining Windows' ability to run on a broad range of machines with a variety of development and management tools to make applications easy to write and deploy, Ballmer said.
"Windows everywhere is an investment that we started really with the intention that if we could take the Windows platform and deploy it quite broadly across a very broad set of devices, we would give developers a platform that was very rich and very appropriate for a broad set of applications," Ballmer said.
Ballmer took direct aim at the network computer (NC) camp that includes Oracle and Sun Microsystems , taking a page from its "write once run everywhere" campaign for Java.
"In some senses I joke that this Windows everywhere is part of our write once run everywhere strategy," Ballmer said. "It's a very different kind of strategy than the one Sun's pursuing, but it certainly talks to the same core idea, and that idea is letting developers get the broadest set of deployment opportunities for their applications - but we're not starting from scratch with Windows."
One new twist on the Windows everywhere strategy comes from the work that Microsoft is doing with Citrix Systems Inc. to incorporate multiuser, terminal emulation capabilities into Windows NT Server. NT Server 5.0, which Ballmer said would be out in about a year, will feature an add-on dubbed Hydra. It will allow NT, via either Microsoft or Citrix protocols, to execute applications on the server and send down only the presentation layer to terminals.
Balmer called these Windows terminals "the thinnest of thin" clients, but he also added that the Hydra capability can also be used to extend the life of older desktop PCs, through a new Microsoft concept called "Windows on Windows."
To demonstrate the point, Ballmer and Windows marketing director Jonathan Roberts showed off a 386-based PC with 4Mb of RAM running off an NT server equipped with Citrix and Microsoft Hydra features. They demonstrated how the 386 can be used to run the latest version of Word in Office 97, which the machine normally would not be able to do because of memory and processor limitations. Essentially, the PC was only running the presentation layer of the software while the application was being executed on the server.
One step up from Windows terminals are various hand-held devices running Windows CE, a subset of Windows that may incorporate only 4Mb of RAM and 4M bytes of ROM, and applications that can take up as little as several hundred K bytes of memory.
Ballmer also stressed the work Microsoft is doing to use new features in NT Server to manage desktop machines centrally, which is part of the company's Zero Administration Windows initiative. In another demo with Roberts, NT 5.0's capabilities to load applications down into desktop machines remotely was shown off.
Also shown was NT 5.0's ability to do client-side caching, which allows a user's entire system and application setup to be stored on a server and replicated down to the user machine when the user wants to disconnect, for example, a laptop, in order to travel. This ability also lets users "roam," or move, from machine to machine and always have the ability to bring down their system setup onto any machine they happen to be using.
In addition, over the next few weeks, Microsoft will be offering for free Zero Administration kits for Windows 95 and NT, downloadable from the Microsoft Web site (http://www.microsoft.com/), which will give network managers the ability to control users access to manager-approved applications.
Hitting the NC camp hard, Ballmer stressed that the new flavors of Windows are all compatible, and don't force developers to scrap previous work.
"The network computer I would say is part of a whole theme from these guys (Oracle and Sun) to try to undo what the PC revolution has done," Ballmer said. "In fact this NC thing smells a lot like Unix to me, the NCs from Sun, Oracle and IBM are simply not compatible."
Meanwhile, Microsoft will work to embrace the best of the new technology from the NC camp - Java.
"There's a lot of discussion in the industry today about Java so we've taken that to heart and integrated into Windows full systems support for so-called 100% pure Java in the Windows product," Ballmer said. "But with the announcements we've made over the last several months, and particularly yesterday, of this thing we call J/Direct we also let developers "take advantage of not only the full Windows set of systems services but the full set of services that have been built up in third-party libraries and objects."
The Windows everywhere concept - particularly Windows Terminals, Net PCs, and the Zero Administration Windows Kit - will be a big boost for corporate customers, according to one systems integrator.
"There's a push from IT management for simplification," says Anthony Pojuner, a principal at Technology Solutions Company, based in Chicago. "Now, Microsoft is responding to this push and it's going to make [IT managers'] jobs easier."
Another systems integrator, however, says he advises his customers to wait and see how the market shakes out before they decide to go with Net PCs or NCs.
"There's so much change going on right now," says Christopher Scarpulla, an account executive at Ocean Computer Group in New Jersey. "People who are ready to jump right now are probably going to get hurt."
And despite the Microsoft bravado that the very term Windows everywhere connotes, even the software powerhouse is not infallible, as a failed demo during the keynote showed.
After Roberts tried several times to launch a browser on a Casio hand-held device running Windows CE, he exclaimed, "Screw that."
After the failed demo, Ballmer retorted, "Strike one."