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Microsoft WinHEC 2005

Raising the Speed Limit

IF WE LEARNED anything from Microsoft’s Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) 2005, it's that the move to 64-bits will be a very quick and easy transition, with most new systems containing x86-64 processors by the end of 2005. WinHEC launched Microsoft’s long-awaited Windows x64 operating systems in XP Professional and several Server 2003 flavors. Everywhere we turned, x64 desktop and server systems were on display.

Regardless of whether most consumers will benefit much from 64-bit computing, Microsoft, AMD, and Intel are pushing it as the next step in the evolution of PC computing. In addition to all of the x64 hype, WinHEC also yielded some interesting information regarding 64-bit drivers, Windows "Longhorn," Samsung's hybrid hard drives, and Shuttle's Pentium M-based home theater PC.

Bill Gates' keynote
WinHEC's main attraction has always been Bill Gates' keynote speech, which lays out what to expect from Microsoft in the near future. In addition to covering 64-bit computing, this year's keynote also previewed Longhorn, Microsoft's next major Windows release.

Gates started off the keynote by poking fun at himself, denying ever saying that "no one needs more than 640k of memory" back in his earlier years. From there, he went on to talk about 64-bit computing as the future and how support for up to 16TB of memory will last us a while, being careful not to say we will never need more than 16TB of memory. Gates also expects the transition to 64 bits to be a smooth and easy one, with performance improvements to follow.

According to Gates, simplifying how programs like email and calendar applications are accessed will be a key feature of future operating systems. Instead of having to boot into the operating system to display email or calendar information, future laptops, tablets, and mobile devices will have an auxiliary display that can access all that information without turning on the system. Microsoft is also working on a new mobile platform, dubbed Ultra Mobile 2007, that targets an $800-1000 price range. Ultra Mobile 2007 will be a pocketable touch screen-equipped device with camera, phone, and multimedia playback capabilities. It almost looks like a high-end smart phone.

Longhorn also had a big presence at WinHEC, and represents the first major revamp that Windows GUI has received since XP was launched. The operating system's new graphics infrastructure has transparency and glass reflection effects that take advantage of pixel shaders and vector-based graphics. The new GUI will also support opaque windows and better application window sizing. The latter was demonstrated with the Windows calculator, which was scaled up in size without any loss in image quality. Microsoft says this feature will work with all applications and is part of the new graphics driver model.

Static icons will be a thing of the past with Longhorn. The OS will feature live icons that can preview and zoom into documents. Aside from these visual enhancements, Longhorn will also offer improved document searching and organizational tools.

As one might expect, Longhorn's extra features and functionality will require a relatively modern system. Although official system requirements haven’t been published yet, Gates stated that the OS would require a "modern" CPU, at least 512MB of memory, and a graphics card compatible with the Longhorn display driver. Realistically, that translates to a Pentium 4 or Athlon-class processor with a DirectX 9-capable graphics card.