Future Windows looms into view

Sweeping changes are coming to the desktop this year. Microsoft is preparing to send out beta versions of its next OS, code-named Memphis, this quarter, with a final version due sometime in the third quarter. The OS will create a new system architecture called Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI), which combines advanced power management and Plug and Play and moves many BIOS function calls to the operating-system level to give IT managers and end-users more control over their systems.

Sweeping changes are coming to the desktop this year. Microsoft is preparing to send out beta versions of its next OS, code-named Memphis, this quarter, with a final version due sometime in the third quarter. The OS will create a new system architecture called Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI), which combines advanced power management and Plug and Play and moves many BIOS function calls to the operating-system level to give IT managers and end-users more control over their systems.

"It will allow many more power-saving and housekeeping chores to be set at the server level," says Rob Bennett, product manager for Microsoft.

Microsoft will also add a corporate twist to the much-publicised decision to use its Web browser, Internet Explorer 4.0, as the OS interface by leaving that choice up to its corporate customers, a Microsoft representative says. However, it is yet to be determined whether the interface, which is selected during installation of the OS, can be changed at a later date.

Implementation of the PC97-sponsored OnNow technology in Memphis will give IT managers the ability to do corporate-wide housekeeping chores such as backing up local drives and defragmenting hard disks by scheduling a wake-up call to the desktop after the system has been turned "off" by the end-user.

Control of individual devices, such as networking cards, sound cards, the monitor, and the modem will be achieved through the new universal Win32 Device Driver (WDD) specification, which runs on both Windows NT and Memphis. WDD will allow IT managers to automate the downloading of software upgrades or new hardware drivers to desktops, and when the activity is complete, it will shut down the systems again.

Even tasks such as Internet searches, in which the user schedules a time for the system to wake up, search, download data, then turn itself off, will also be possible.

Many of the changes will benefit mobile users as well. Microsoft will use Plug and Play to let applications alert the OS that a device on the PC is being used by the program even if the CPU is inactive. This will enable a presentation program to tell the OS that the monitor is in use to keep the system from turning off the screen, or, in the case of downloading an Internet file, it will prevent the system from disconnecting and reverting to sleep mode.

ACPI will also increase power saving on notebooks by turning off parts of a system that normally draw power when not in use, such as a PC Card modem installed in a PC Card slot.

Network users will benefit from the integration of the OS with desktop applications and the BIOS by saving network connections locally and re-establishing that connection when the system is turned back on.

Systems will someday be capable of completing operating-system upgrades automatically, according to Dwight Davis, editorial director at Windows Watcher newsletter, in Redmond, Washington.

"Microsoft is moving away from the model where there is a new version of the OS every year or so to the subscriber model, where a company subscribes for a year or two to updates which are automatically sent to the system as they are introduced," Davis says.

Microsoft will be assigning a combined PC97-Windows logo to programs that comply with the new specifications.

Microsoft Corp., in Redmond, can be reached at http://www.microsoft.com.

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