Editor Preparing for the Next Windows

"Whistler" brings a "single code base" and the beginning of Windows.NET. You'd better start preparing now.




Winds of Change

Microsoft .Net

Microsoft strikes out at Linux

Tried, Guilty, Sentenced

OS/2 Finally Dead


What's to be done with Microsoft

Our Web comes alive again

"Whistler" is the code name for the next version of Windows (the final name has not yet been chosen). The first releases are scheduled for the middle of 2001 and will be the desktop versions: Personal replaces Windows ME for home use, and Professional replaces Windows 2000 Professional for the business desktop. Server versions will follow.

Whistler is based on Windows 2000 code with Windows ME features incorporated into it. So far there's nothing much new in the Beta-1 version, but .NET features should be working their way in by release time.

Important: Microsoft has stated you will not be able to upgrade Windows 95/98/ME computers to Whistler. You will be able to upgrade Windows 2000 computers to Whistler but they probably won't work quite right. Microsoft strongly recommends that you buy all new computers with Whistler pre-installed. This implies there will be hardware incompatibilities with current equipment.

This will rip the guts out of the PC industry as buyers start waiting for Whistler. As usual, the release will probably drag out, extending the pain. This will have a strong negative impact on the stock price of leading PC manufacturers as they miss quarterly projections.

Because Whistler is an important step towards .NET, Microsoft is likely to apply heavy pressure for business to "upgrade" as soon as possible. This will mean very heavy technology expenditures for companies that stay on the Microsoft path.

Whistler Features

Whistler finally removes DOS from Windows. Important: Companies that rely on DOS based programs (many do because they work) will probably not be able to run them on Whistler. To avoid a painful and costly migration to Windows, these programs can still be run on Windows 98, OS/2 and Linux desktops. They should eventually be migrated to Web based applications, not to Windows.

Whistler will be more compatible with Windows95/98 software than NT or 2000 are in order to support popular games and other consumer software.

Important: Whistler will have a substantially new user interface, not the familiar Windows desktop. This means retraining costs and increased support costs to maintain two different user environments. We don't know how different it will be because Microsoft doesn't know yet.

Whistler will have some "security features" IS departments are drooling over. Primary among these is a switch to prevent any "unsigned" software being installed or run anywhere on the network. This will completely stop users from installing any software on their computers that is not signed with a certificate from the company's IS department. This brings the PC full circle - it is now no more personal than the mainframe was.

Many expect home users will also be urged to turn on blocking of unsigned software, under the guise of protecting themselves from viruses and malicious code. Because the signing authorities are expensive, small innovative companies will be effectively barred from the Windows software market.

Whistler and .NET

Microsoft has made it very clear their .NET initiative, not Windows, defines their future. Windows is not required to use .NET services, though Microsoft has stated many features will work better with Windows. This is most likely to be true of consumer software.

Whistler can be seen as the last big milking of the Windows desktop before it becomes irrelevant. Nontheless, Whistler will include some of the .NET framework. More .NET enhancements are sure to be issued as add-ons, as they become ready.

Microsoft must work enough .NET stuff into Whistler to generate critical mass so they can lure software developers from the Windows desktop to developing .NET services. On the other hand, they don't want .Net wiping out their current products while they can still be milked - a delicate balance.

Whistler's successor, Blackcomb, will incorporate the full Windows.NET framework (whatever that turns out to be). By this time Microsoft hopes to have wide acceptance of software as a service, rather than something you own.

What exactly is .NET? Even Microsoft would like to know the answer to that question. Meanwhile, the .NET article I wrote upon its announcement is still valid.

Business Impact

Clearly Whistler will have a major impact on business users. There are several paths of action (or inaction) you can consider.
  • Accept the Microsoft Path: Accept that you will need new computers (again), that software will become a service you lease rather than a product you buy, and that much of your essential software and business data will reside on servers you do not own. The path of least resistance is worth the cost.

    Many larger companies will have to take this path because they have implemented complex enterprise-wide systems that depend on the integration features of Windows. Microsoft will probably use their support contracts as leverage as well - they just have to get that .NET stuff out there.

  • Stay Put: Resist migration and stay with Windows95/98/ME/NT/2000 as long as possible in hope of skipping an upgrade or two before the world has changed entirely. Microsoft will do their best to make this difficult. Expect traditional computer equipment, as well as software licenses, to become difficult to get.

    The big unanswered question is how network compatible Whistler will be with earlier versions of Windows. If there are network incompatibilities, that will force businesses to either accept Whistler or seek alternatives to Windows sooner rather than later.

  • Outsource to ASPs Now: Why wait for .NET if you have high speed Internet access and feel you can trust the service providers? More information on ASPs will be found in our ASP article.

  • Start Your Migration to Web and host based applications that are fully under your control. IBM, Sun and other large players are encouraging this approach. For a small business, this means Linux on the servers, then moving desktop applications to those servers over time, finally dropping Windows PCs in favor of thin clients with Java and Web browsers. Linux desktops are another option.

Small businesses have more flexibility in these choices, but a great deal less technical expertise. Many will try to hang back with Windows 98 as long as possible. The danger for Microsoft is these backwater users may find it more acceptable, once they must move forward, to move in a more familiar but non-Microsoft direction rather than embrace .NET.

The concept of owning your own software and keeping your data on your own computers is very heavily entrenched in small business and will be difficult to dislodge. Linux will continue to provide that environment while it also enables access to new environments, including .NET.

©Andrew Grygus - Automation Access - www.aaxnet.com - aax@aaxnet.com
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