Microsoft Unveils its Road Map

Microsoft Corp.’s current and planned product lines may appear to be a jumbled collection of software and operating systems, but Jim Ewel, vice president of marketing, IT infrastructure and hosting, at Microsoft, suggests that the product line will soon be a coherent slate of offerings. At the Windows 2000 Datacenter Reviewers’ Workshop, Ewel unveiled Microsoft’s road map for the next two generations of company's operating system.

Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) is moving its focus from the PC to an integrated client server platform. Despite plans to release software for handheld devices to 32-way megaservers, the company's road map outlines a vertical platform from the smallest of clients to the largest of servers, integrating the devices with applications, operating systems, and development environments.

"Our strategy five years ago was very PC-centric," Ewel says. Now that the market has shifted to networked applications, Microsoft is shifting its focus to the Internet and other networked environments. In addition to creating operating systems that are network-friendly, Microsoft plans to help users construct large network services, such as application hosting, smart devices, and complex XML implementations. The new operating systems and application platforms all fall under Microsoft's umbrella .NET strategy.

Microsoft’s newest two offerings are a client and a server operating system. Windows ME (Millennium Edition), released late last month, is the newest client operating system and the last iteration of the DOS kernel that lay at the core of both Windows 95 and 98. Windows 2000 Datacenter Server, Microsoft’s entry into mainframe class servers, will officially roll out Sept 26. Ewel believes Datacenter is critical to the .NET strategy. "In order to run those big services in the sky, we need Datacenter," he says.

Microsoft's longtime partner Intel Corp. (www.intel.com) will also make its contribution to the high-end server space with its 64-bit Itanium processor. Based on an architecture designed for Hewlett-Packard Co.’s (www.hp.com) HP-UX operating system, the processor leaves behind the PC era’s x86 instruction set, adding features designed for high-end data centers. A 64-bit flavor of Windows 2000 will roll out when Itanium hits the market.

Later this year, Microsoft will release a raft of applications falling under the banner of its .NET service infrastructure. The applications, written for enterprise servers, include SQL Server 2000, BizTalk Server 2000, Host Integration Server 2000, Exchange 2000, Application Center 2000, Internet Security & Acceleration Server 2000, and Commerce Server 2000. Ewel says the releases will be largest launch of enterprise software Microsoft has ever made. The applications feature extended XML support and Active Directory integration.

Whistler, Microsoft’s code name for its next generation operating systems, will support both client and server machines, integrating the hardware into a single platform. Whistler will say goodbye to the DOS kernel, putting it to bed with the PC era. Microsoft has not said whether Whistler will run on handheld devices, which currently run its Pocket PC operating system.

New features in Whistler will include network-centric characteristics, such as security features, directory integration, wizard-based network configuration, reliability features, and network management services such as remote logins. Ewel says Whistler’s arrival is not far in the future. "We’re months away from doing our first beta" he said. Microsoft plans to release it sometime in 2001.

Farther off in the future lies Blackcomb, the code name for the generation of operating systems that will follow Whistler. Microsoft has not suggested a release date, only saying that it will succeed Whistler. Microsoft will extend its focus on XML with Blackcomb -- allowing Web-based applications to revolve around XML -- and will further enable ASPs at both the enterprise and consumer levels. In addition, Ewel suggests that it will be a new user experience in terms of interface and seamless continuity between small devices, PCs, and enterprise-class servers.

This focus on client/server systems seems to challenge the strategy of Sun Microsystems Corp. (www.sun.com), which has operated on the declaration "The network is the computer" for more than a decade. "We’re focused on Sun, and we need to be more focused on Sun," Ewel says.