by Alan Zisman
(c) 1999. First
published in Canadian Computer Wholesaler, July 1999
This business started off as ?IBM Personal Computers?.
Then it became
?IBM PCs, Clones and Compatibles?. But somewhere along the line?perhaps
when its PS/2 hardware and OS/2 software failed to set new directions
PCs, the ?IBM? label sort of faded away, as that still large company no
longer set the standards for the industry.
What replaced it has often been characterized as
running on Intel-defined hardware. Even if your customers are running
Linux (or even IBM OS/2) on a computer built around, say, an AMD K6-3
it?s still a Wintel world.
And where do Microsoft and Intel go to give their
orders to the computer
industry? While the various Comdex shows get the most attention,
more influential is the annual WinHEC conference?the Windows Hardware
Conference, held each Spring.
For the past few WinHECs, the powers-that-be unveiled
PC98 and PC99
specifications?what Microsoft and Intel expected as minimum hardware
for up-coming years.
In those specs, the dynamic duo proposed a hardware
standard that would
evolve away from the antique ISA bus?dropping internal ISA slots in
of the PCI bus, and eventually dropping standard serial and parallel
in favour of connecting via Universal Serial Bus.
But conspiracy theorists may be disappointed to learn
that the PC industry
received their marching orders, but only listened with one ear. My
PC, built around an new ASUS motherboard, for example, still had 3 ISA
slots along with the regular serial and parallel ports. Ironically, the
machine that most exemplifies the spirit of the PC99 specification may
be Apple?s new blue and white G3 towers, with PCI slots along with USB
and Firewire for connections to outside devices. Of course, with its
CPU and MacOS, I guess we can?t really call it a Wintel machine?though
it can run an emulator like Virtual PC pretty darn quickly!
Perhaps because of the non-adoption of the PC98/99
was little talk of a PC2000 at this year?s conference. Instead, here?s
some of what was being talked about:
- PCs are too hard. Microsoft proposed a number of
technologies to make
easier for PC consumers?part of a strategy to bring PCs to the 50% of
that have avoided them so far. Microsoft hopes in 2000 to release what
is now being tentatively touted as ?Consumer Windows??a follow up to
98. This replaces plans to merge the Windows 95/98 stream with
2000. Consumer Windows will be focusing on consumer-related multimedia
and entertainment technologies like digital photography and music.
rep Bill Zolna suggested a goal for Consumer Windows was the ?it just
Along with Intel, Microsoft is continuing to push the Easy PC
They want hardware manufacturers to increasingly add features like:
Available/On Now to minimize the time spent rebooting by expanding
Suspend for desktop machines. Shades of PC99, the Initiative wants to
use of USB at the expense of the ISA bus. As well, they call for a
initial setup and more innovative PC designs (are we hearing echoes of
Apple?s iMac here?) One eye-catcher was a purple CD drive from AMD,
the CD spinning vertically?and visible through an open door.
Together with that, Microsoft?s Steve Ballmer
discussed Windows Server
Appliances?a class of simple to setup network servers due by the end of
the year. He demoed a unit where the first thing on boot-up was a
Wizard that set up network printers along with file and Internet
server?target price US$2,000.
Ultimately, the goal is what Ballmer described as
of use?, not just for network servers, but for all PCs.
Farther on down the road?
- Digital Photography will experience dramatic
a Windows Imaging Architecture to build on existing technologies to
consumers with a consistent imaging interface that could work with any
WIA-compliant device. Microsoft?s Carl Stork claimed ?The goal is to
it really easy to get pictures in,"
- Universal Plug and Play will extend outside the
box, across the
and finally across the home or office. Microsoft hopes the UPnP will
by making network setup and Internet setup much easier than it is
With over 50 vendors signed on, UpnP consumer products available next
should include digital TVs and VCRs, network printers, disk drives, and
cameras, and home control systems. (Some will notice a resemblance to
- 3D interfaces. Microsoft Research Labs? Dan Robbins
demoed a 3D user
in which he ?strolled? down a virtual hallway?on the walls were
Web pages, with Java and ActiveX applications running on them. Robbins?
virtual hand carried a collection of common applications, along with
Web page icons that could be tacked up onto the wall.
- 64-bit Windows 2000. Microsoft President Steve
Ballmer showed a demo of
64-bit Windows 2000, running on Compaq Alpha hardware. They claim that
the 64-bit version is being developed together with the 32-bit version,
so that 64-bit versions of Windows 2000, Visual Studio, and BackOffice
will be available together with Intel?s upcoming 64-bit Merced CPU.
- Of course there?s hardware?What technology
conference doesn?t include
hardware? Intel got its chance to shine, with v-p Pat Gelsinger?s
showing off what?s on their plate. Coming this Fall?4X Accelerated
Port (AGP), Rambus Direct RAM super-fast memory, built on Intel?s 820
set with 133 MHz front end bus. Hard drives supporting ATA66,
data twice as fast as current models.
Intel?s hardware visions got some competition from AMD, who showed
off their K7 CPU, demoing a 600 MHz version running on a 200 MHz bus
an innovative AMD chipset for the motherboard. Initial versions of the
K7 should become available this summer.
Not all WinHEC dreams come true, however. Cyrix was
showing off higher
speed versions of its M-II CPU, which may never make it to market as
owner National Semiconductor has put the