Q&A: Microsoft's Allchin on Vista and beyond

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Jim Allchin

Jim Allchin, Microsoft ’s group vice president of platforms, delivered a two-hour-plus keynote Tuesday, the opening day of Microsoft’s Professional Developer’s Conference. Afterward, he sat down with Network World Senior Editor John Fontana and talked about client software, IT pros, ship dates (and the lack thereof), storage technology and workflow.

What is Vista now after all the feature changes since you introduced it as Longhorn?

We have not tried to explain it to the world yet, we really haven’t. We’ve said there are different ways to look at it. We have talked about the three “C’s” - clarity, confidence and connected - and we’ve explained how the different components of what we are doing all add up to those. In terms of a value proposition, I like to talk about audiences. The thing we are doing for IT professionals, the information worker, consumers, the thing we are doing for developers and OEMs. And there are an incredible number of features in all of those areas. We have not come out and said “ta-daaaaaa.” We are still gearing up for that.

So what do you see as key for IT professionals?

There will be more in this release then they have seen since Windows 2000. New [operating system] imaging capabilities that we have which will let them reduce the number of images that they have to manage, compress the size. Today, corporations may have hundreds of images they have to manage - images that are mapped to a particular hardware environment, a particular app load - and each of those images is completely independent. In Vista, that all changes; you create images that share DLLs so the size drops down. You can do offline servicing. The ability to use those images for deployment is much, much simpler. Just that area is very, very deep in Vista, contrasting that with Windows XP. If you look beyond that, the [reduction in the] number of reboots, the dramatic improvements in security, network access protection or user access protection. Just think about that last feature. How many corporations today would like to run a standard user?

With all the delays and changes, what has this taught Microsoft about building a next-generation operating system?

We changed mid-stream the way we build an operating system. We re-engineered our engineering process. We stopped and reviewed, and added resources from the research group, including tools to better automate the way we build the product. The engineering is significantly different than we used in the past. That is one thing that we learned. Another thing is transparency - trying to let people know where we are going. The Community Technology Previews (CTP) give us feedback. When you are going where nobody has gone before it is good to get feedback along the way before you get to the end. It has also taught us to do it right the first time. We still have to be transparent so customers will see our work, make mistakes and correct those.

You said in your keynote the Office 12 and Vista combination represents a real incentive for companies to upgrade. What are the new opportunities for companies with the combination of those two cornerstone products?

It depends on the company. But oftentimes they decide to do a deployment where they are mapping together operating system and a productivity capability and maybe a line of business apps that they make as a drop and then roll that out. So a certain number of customers will take advantage of the fact they are going to do a refresh, and they will pick up everything, and that is what they will roll out. Vista runs independently of Office. Office can run down level and if you put the two together you get some advantages. But if you are going to update them, why not do them together?

It wasn’t clear this morning if WinFS is indeed planned for the server and the client - is that still true?

We are not giving any timeframe other than that the thing will be in beta when Vista ships (Ed: planned for the second half of 2006). We need more feedback. We just came out with a CTP of our recent incarnation of it. We want feedback on that before we finalize it.

But the CTP is just for the client?

Right. But it won’t be in the Vista client or the Longhorn server.

It will be like an R2-type release?

We’ll see. We need feedback.

What is the lineup of enterprise versions of Vista? What will be the defining characteristics of those versions of the operating system?

We are not making announcements on that. We are gathering feedback and we have a plan of record, but we have not come out and said this is what it is going to be because we are still getting feedback and we might move a few features around.

You didn’t mention a timeframe for Beta 2 for Vista. Is there one?

No. There will be intermediate code drops between now and Beta 2. But there are two big milestones left, Beta 2 and RTM.

Bill Gates said today one of the big PDC “takeaways” for attendees this year would be balance between the client and the server. Can you flesh that thought out a bit more?

The way to think about it is that we expect to see Web servers that do incredible things, whether they be managing line-of-business operations with orchestration or huge data farms in terms of Internet services. At the same time, there is all this richness happening on the client. Both are important. My talk today was going after the advantages and advancement on the Windows client in the broadest sense: phones, etc.

The Windows Workflow Foundation that you introduced today - is that going to be back-ported to older systems like the other foundation services you’ve introduced for presentation (Avalon) and communication (Indigo)?

It is in the CTP for the WinFX runtime. Windows Workflow is part of the WinFX component runtime. We are trying to get people familiar with that right now. It will be available on XP.

On the client, what are the opportunities and importance in terms of the Windows Workflow Foundation?

Any application that wants to do sequencing across a set of events and then run operations based on that and not have to develop its own plumbing can use these DLLs and embed them in their applications. The first use of this you will see will be on the SharePoint side, the server, and then you will see it in things equivalent to FrontPage for setting up those things on the client side. But any application can take advantage of it.

Does this replace WinOE, Windows Workflow Services? How do those things relate?

This is another generation of WinOE only fleshed out. We have learned so much. We have BizTalk, which is a shrink-wrapped solution for doing orchestration between multiple different line-of-business systems, for example. What we did not have was a set of DLLs, infrastructure plumbing, that an app could embed and have the OS do some of the platform services for the app. And so, what SharePoint is doing, it is an app, it is taking advantage of the workflow DLL to manage the workflow of what you might expect from say signing between documents, acceptances and the like. It is a natural extension of what is happening on the back end. The typical thing you might have is Outlook accepting some document and approving it, and it is shipped back to SharePoint, which updates its state for routing to the next step. Instead of using BizTalk, you allow that technology to surface in SharePoint itself.

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