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MS VP maps out Win2k futures

And gives us some clues about how much there still is to do

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Microsoft is turning into a developer control freak, as well as a dream factory. Having sold the idea of Windows 2000 before the product is released, the company has been dropping some hints as to how it will control W2000 applications development. Microsoft's love-in for developers, which it calls TechEd, is being held this week in Dallas. Analysing the sub-text of the keynote addresses and events gives a more reliable picture of what is happening in the Microsoft world than PR releases. Brian Valentine, VP of the business enterprise division, spent much of his keynote on the work that other companies were doing in order to plug some of the gaps in Windows 2000. IBM's role in all this is to provide server cluster support and maintenance technology, but is IBM a wiser organisation than when it first negotiated with Gates? Only time will tell. Sequent seems to be providing "workflow management technology". Valentine came from the Exchange 4.0 development team ("one of those other products that took us just a little longer than we expected"), so his special skill is with product delay management. He worked the audience, but it was uphill work: the religious fervour is diminishing somewhat and being replaced by a greater sense of realism, it seems. Valentine launched into the official formula for what's been wrong with previous versions of Windows: scalability, reliability, manageability and availability. But then he added another one, supposedly resulting from what developers had been saying: "One of the key things you've told us is interoperability is key". What Valentine was hinting at was that Microsoft developers - its army of unpaid sales people - will have to see themselves as "strategic partners" instead of "software vendors". Although the word "Linux" did not pass Valentine's lips, it was a hint that Microsoft could not have a strategic role with developers who also developed Linux applications. Valentine's version of the four Windows 2000 versions is that there will be a Professional Workstation and three server versions: Standard Server (departmental server), Advanced Server ("mirrors the enterprise server that we have today"), and Data Center Server. Later he claimed that "embedded Windows is another product line" - except that it wasn't because "we're taking Windows and moving them [sic] into those devices [e.g. handhelds, medical control devices]". Microsoft's goal is "to make sure that many of those devices as possible can also be running Windows" which is a far cry from embedded Windows being a current product. How many believed Valentine when he claimed "We're not going to keep anything secret, and we're not going to hide anything, so as we learn things, we'll roll them out". He admitted that Microsoft had eliminated "75 reboot scenarios" in its effort to reach the goal of never having to reboot the system, but it was clear that W2000 cannot be a 24x7x365 system: after all, goals and achievements are rather different things. On the reliability front for applications, Valentine's logic seemed to be (our paraphrase): "You've told us you want us to be more reliable. So we are." Valentine wanted W2000 "to be 100 per cent more reliable the day we ship it than NT4 SP5". As an example to prove that Microsoft delivered unreliable software, Valentine said of NT4: "... it's a lot more solid today than it ever was when we shipped it two and a half years ago." Therein lies the lesson for W2000: as it's perhaps twice as big as NT4, it is likely to take five years before it approaches stability. So far as future bug fixes are concerned, Microsoft has bowed to pressure to put in its service packs only bug fixes, and not late-shipping code that didn't make the release. There was just a hint that Microsoft would only work with selected ISVs, and we can guess that soft-core Linux developers will have a tough time catching Microsoft's eye. The joke is of course that hard-core Linux developers (and we should not forget developers of FreeBSD and other splendid open source code in these days of Linux euphoria) specifically do not wish to have any relationship with Microsoft. Microsoft's brave talk for the Data Center version is it will support "up to 32-way multiprocessor systems ... four-way clustering [in the first release] ... we'll go well beyond four way". Exchange and SQL Server "will support true load levelling across clustering". It's a shame we all have a limited lifespan and may never see these plans in practice. It sounded like the preliminary specification for Windows 3000, but building dreams has always been a Microsoft speciality. Valentine explained another control mechanism Microsoft had dreamt up: "If applications follow the rules, we'll give them Gold Label certification from Microsoft." It was clear that Microsoft would also run a programme to advise punters not to use applications without a gold label. We have yet to see just what conditions Microsoft will require for certification, but it is worth recalling a couple of previous tricks: with Windows 95, the logo was only sold (not given) if the application worked (unnecessarily) with NT as well. Well, there was one exception: Microsoft's own Windows 95 applications didn't have to run with NT to get the logo. Valentine said: "We have a large effort going on in giving you a global directory" but it did not sound at all as though the product was complete except for final debugging. He added: "We've built in directory synchronisation with Active Directory, so we'll have Exchange synchronisation and Active Directory - and NDS synchronisation the day we ship it." Again, it did not sound as though he was speaking about a finished product. What was clear was his concern over NDS: the marketing approach is to call NDS a legacy directory, and use what he referred to as a "Director Synchronisation Manager" to manage replication between the Active Directory and Novel NDS. It didn;'t increase the credibility that Novell was constantly misspelt. There was a broad hint that network management tools for W2000 were not ready: "We're still investing heavily in server and network management. We're going to learn a lot from Windows 2000." There was an admission that the Briefcase feature of Windows 95 "was pretty challenging to use, because the way you used a file when you were connected was different than the way you used it when you weren't." So that's official. What Valentine presented did not sound like the last act of the W2000 opera. And there's no sign of the fat lady. ®

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