Microsoft brought out the big guns on day one of the Professional Developers Conference, with big presentations by Jim Allchin and Paul Maritz. Gates lieutenants mapped out the strategy for Windows NT 5.0 and paved the way for the move to Windows Distributed Network Architecture (DNA).
Windows DNA is a framework for distributed applications that Microsoft thinks is as important as the move to 32-bit Win32 operating systems and applications.
"DNA builds upon what we've done in the past and introduces exciting initiatives that extend Windows into the future, just like the 32-bit OS opened up new application development possibilities that are opened up by this framework," said Paul Maritz.
Key portions of DNA include the next version of COM, now dubbed COM+, and OLE-DB, the successor to ODBC. DNA will be extended outside the Windows world using Dynamic HTML. As an example of this, Microsoft showed a version of Outlook built completely with COM+ objects, Dynamic HTML and scriplets.
The real excitement came when Jim Allchin took the stage and presented Windows NT 5.0 to an eager crowd. PDC attendees were told that Beta 1 (Build 1671) of Windows NT 5.0 was RTM'd on Saturday night and would be in their hands on Friday. Jokingly, Allchin mentioned that they weren't releasing the beta until Friday so that developers wouldn't stay in their hotels rooms and play with it, missing the rest of the conference.
"NT 5.0 is going to be a massive release," Allchin said. "And Microsoft is going to bet the company on it."
His comments were on target, based on the demonstrations and spontaneous applause Allchin's presentation caused. Windows NT 5.0 is an exciting step for all Windows users, so exciting, in fact, that we will be developing a long-form, in-depth review of the first beta within the next week that will be posted to the Internet Nexus Web site. Quite simply, there are just too many exciting new features in this release to try and effectively capture its importance here.
Of course, I'll try anyway.
Windows NT 5 is a superset of Windows 98: Every feature in Windows 98 will ship with NT 5, including the Digital TV integration, IE 4.0, DirectX 5.0, and all the other goodies you've read about. Allchin did draw a clear line between the two OSes, however, and stated that NT 5 will be the "ultimate business OS...an obvious standard for businesses," while Windows 98 is for consumers.
"Windows NT is never done," he said, "it's a work in progress." Allchin discusses how far NT has come since the initial 1993 release. Now, Windows NT 5.0 will become the volume Windows platform.
New features include NTFS 5.0, which adds file encryption capabilities and FAT32 compatibility. The Enterprise Edition will include a 64-bit VLM and massive SMP scaling.
The most compelling thing he said, as far as I'm concerned, regarded networking. Allchin declared that Windows networking is a mess and charged the NT team with a goal for NT 5: simplicity, integration, and "no rebooting." As anyone who uses NT will tell you, any small change to networking properties requires a system reboot. With NT 5.0, that problem is solved. NT 5.0 networking stacks are plug and play: you can change any and all networking properties on the fly and not need to reboot the system. Changes occur instantly and automatically. Furthermore, common DHCP errors are a thing of the past as well. If a DHCP server cannot be found, NT 5 will go on its way without throwing an error message.
Allchin also spent a lot of time going over the distributed services in Windows NT 5.0, including the Active Directory and Distributed File System (DFS). Additionally, a new feature called Application services promises to end the era of application programs overwriting important system DLLs. The IntelliMirroring feature, with roaming user and data/code replication, and integrated Microsoft Management Console (MMC) should provide a much-needed and eagerly awaited central management system for NT. We will touch on all of these items in greater detail in our upcoming review.
At the end of his presentation, Allchin discussed some of the upcoming events in the future of Windows. Windows 98 Beta 3 will ship in Q4 1997, he said, as will the NT 4.0 Option Pack. A new version of BackOffice is due October 22. Windows NT 5.0 Beta 1 will be released this Friday, and the next beta release will be based on feedback from Beta 1. The first beta will include Workstation and Server versions while Beta 2 will add the Enterprise Edition. 200,000 MSDN members will be receiving Windows NT 5.0 Beta 1 sometime in the next few weeks.
As for Windows NT 6.0, Allchin did provide a few tantalizing details. NT 6 will be the first full 64-bit version of NT and will ship on Intel and Digital Alphas. The goal for NT 6 is "simplicity" and distributed computing will again play a big role. NT 6 will be more intuitive, information rich, maintenance free, and will offer seamless communication features ("No networking!" Allchin declared) along with a speech interface