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MS and Intel's plans for next year's PCs

Workstation powered consumer models, and Dos could have its air supply disconnected

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Wintel's plans for the next generation of PC will become clearer next week, when the joint Intel-Microsoft PC2001 System Design Guidelines come up for their first public review at a two-day meeting in Redmond. As we noted last week, PC2001 is aimed solely at hardware platforms running Windows, but a close inspection of the first draft reveals a lot more the alliance's co-operation plans. Strange really, considering how much they still hate one another. PC2001 consists of general guidelines for the design of PC systems intended to ship towards the end of next year, and it also contains a chapter specifically on the Easy PC design, which is envisaged, effectively, as a new category of consumer PC. In terms of look and footprint the resulting machines will be a lot like the Concept PCs Intel showed last November. Machines based on these were scheduled to arrive this November, but if any actually do, they'll be largely cosmetic jobs - iMac knock-offs, you might say. The bottom line here is that the combination of hardware and software features won't be ready in time for them to be particularly easy to use under the covers. As an aside, if you want to know why Concept PCs may be a little delayed, you needn't look much further than Windows 2000. When Intel first mooted them at IDF last autumn, Win2k was shipping in H199, and the consumer OS based on it (which would be the one for Concept PCs) was to ship shortly afterwards. But back to PC2001. Presenting it a little earlier this year Intel evangelist Steve Barile specifically said that the PC2001 schedule had been altered to accommodate a silicon development lead time of 18 months. When we read this (PC2001 released) we suspected a closer integration of Intel hardware and MS software, and a look at the detail of PC2001 makes it look like we were right. Barile also stressed that the guidelines "should avoid surprising the industry with new requirements previously not disclosed, not commercially viable, or not supported in the OS." That last, we can presume, was a reference to Microsoft's laggard support for USB in previous operating systems. Legacy removal is the most important aspect of PC2001, and the silicon development lead time will in part be caused by the amount of board-level hardware development needed to support this. But for Easy PC specifically one of the things MS and Intel propose is "high functional integration on the motherboard." One's thoughts naturally turn to new highly integrated motherboard and System on Chip designs from Intel at this juncture. These should be pretty interesting, as the Easy PC spec requires a 500MHz CPU and 128Mb memory, which is equivalent to the workstation requirements of PC2001. Watch for these being trailed at Intel Developer Forums in September and early next year. These designs will also include "modular build to order/configure to order options." So Intel intends to implement its building block approach with multi-flavour motherboards at the OEM level, we'd guess that means. The Millennium input Microsoft software support for both this and legacy removal will be important, but the guide shows that Redmond doesn't quite have its act together here yet, and therefore plans are still in flux. It puts forward a requirement that MS-DOS shouldn't be used by system builders to run any device or software, but says that "this requirement is still under review." That is, they think they want to make this a requirement, but will back off if enough people shout at them. Easy PC machines will definitely ship without legacy hardware, but the software position is a lot fuzzier, and there's a fascinating section on what Microsoft would like to do, but might not: "Microsoft is investigating the development of non-retail [i.e. OEM] versions of Windows 98 and Windows 2000 operating systems that will support PC systems that do not use legacy components such as Super I/O, the 8042 controller, and MS-DOS." Note first that these operating systems being investigated are obviously Millennium and Neptune, and second that PC2001 was published just days before Microsoft shipped the Millennium developer release. So Microsoft signed-off these doubting words after it started briefing people about legacy removal in Millennium. Now read on: "Supporting system features being proposed for the next OEM service release of Windows 98 (Windows 'Millennium') include the following: All Windows dependency on Super I/O and 8042 eliminated. USB HID detection during boot. Native support for more USB device classes, including printer, storage and broadband modem plus serial-to-USB and parallel-to-USB mappers. Native S4 support (suspend to disk) with operating system recovery in under eight seconds, and S3 resume in under five seconds. More device support through ACPI. Mechanism to return to a previous known, good, configuration." That's probably a pretty good picture of what Millennium is supposed to be about but note that "the above list should not be considered a commitment from Microsoft. The feature set for the next release of Windows Millennium will be known before the completion of PC 2001 guidelines." So the amount of legacy removal is still in flux, and there probably is room for that Millennium "SE" update we suggested earlier today. ®

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