MS-Intel issue roadmap for next year's Windows-only PC
Wintel alliance not dead after all shock - what's Chipzilla playing at?
The Microsoft-Intel roadmap for next year's PCs is out, and although the pair were showing severe signs earlier this year of zooming off in opposite directions, it's now pretty clear that they're back in sync. Earlier this week the two published the first discussion draft of the PC2001 design guide, and from the accompanying timeline it's clear that machines based on the spec will ship in the second half of next year, and they'll ship with Microsoft operating systems. That's something of a reversion to type, because a few years back the PC9x design guides did tend to channel manufacturers towards 100 per cent Wintel systems, with only sketchy recognition of non-MS operating systems. PC2001 as it currently stands is the most extreme yet - its cover page reads: "A technical reference for designing PCs and peripherals for the Microsoft Windows family of operating systems." That kind of undermines the support Intel has been giving to Linux over the past year, doesn't it? But it may be that we're about to see a fragmentation of design efforts, with the Wintel alliance pursuing a down-the-line Microsoft-only version with PC2001, and Intel pursuing other avenues independently (as indeed Chipzilla has been doing already). PC2001 picks up the ball from the announcement of the joint Microsoft-Intel Easy PC Initiative earlier this year. As we've said here before, Easy PC was essentially a collection of classic Microsoft add-on bells and whistles bolted uneasily onto an existing Intel plan, the Ease of Use Initiative. Easy PC was invented in the first place as somewhere for Microsoft to go, seeing as how the consumer version of NT got cancelled and MS decided to do a new version of Win9x (now going into beta as Millennium), so the details were going to have to be bolted on after the event. With PC2001, they're now starting to look more bolted. An Intel presentation which, despite being labelled "Intel confidential," is in plain sight on the Web, tellingly places the kick-off of PC2001 development as February 1999 (i.e., when the two announced Easy PC). It's to run through until a final spec in February 2000, when it will be published. But our nice man from Intel tells us some more interesting stuff as well. Says the presentation: "Change SDG [System Design Guide, i.e. PC2001] schedules to accommodate silicon schedules... 18 month lead time for silicon development," and testing in July 2001. This suggests that part of the deal between Intel and Microsoft has involved a trade-off to incorporate Intel hardware developments that are in the pipeline, and that these won't be ready until the middle of next year. So the Intel "Concept PCs" shown last year, which were an independent effort, may well show up in demo form from manufacturers this year, but it would seem likely that there will be another, far more radical rev, with tighter integration of hardware and software, for the second half of 2000. This will inevitably sync in with Bill Gates' Web-centric platform (Gates pushes Web-centric PC), which by a massive not a coincidence at all will be discussed in lots more detail in, er, February 2000. PC2001 includes the obvious stuff - no ISA, no floppy, no serial or parallel. It will have USB ports, but Firewire "is introduced as the standard for controllers and devices." So we're definitely jumping that way. It's obviously aimed at Microsoft's Millennium, but is also clearly heading in the direction of the next one, Neptune, or possibly of a revised version of Millennium to ship later next year. Or even of an appliance-oriented version of Windows. ®
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