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Few Surprises With Windows 'Longhorn' Server 2008

While Microsoft chairman Bill Gates chatted with the audience here at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), at least one attendee was wrestling with a balky Wi-Fi connection and a Windows XP crash causing a locked-up laptop.

Back to work, Bill.

Technical difficulties aside, Gates' confirmed in his keynote speech what the company has already let slip to the public: Longhorn Server is now officially called Windows Server 2008.

"I know it's a surprise for us to pick something so straightforward but it makes the most sense," Gates joked about the moniker for the software, which the public first saw in beta last month.

As part of a demonstration of Windows Server 2008, a product manager showed how a laptop lacking a firewall and antivirus software was denied access to the network. Windows Server 2008 will have more than 4,000 policy options for administrators to enforce, twice as many as Windows Server 2003.

Gates then introduced a demo of Windows Rally, a new consumer technology designed to simplify home networking and adding new devices to a home network. Rally is designed to be unobstrusive, quietly setting up the channels, SSID (define) and IP addresses of devices.

All new devices are automatically discovered by the network and added, including wireless multimedia transmitters and digital cameras. During the demo, photos taken with a digital camera were automatically downloaded to a server, then displayed in an electronic photo display devices, with no user interaction at all.

In other news, Gates announced that Vista had surpassed 40 million units in its first 100 days of availability, double the rate of sales of Windows XP when it launched in 2001. The 40 million figure shows continued momentum from Vista's fast launch at the beginning of the year.

For the more than 40 million homes with multiple PCs, Microsoft demonstrated Windows Home Server, its aspirin for customers' file-sharing headaches. Slated for a fall release, Windows Home Server will be sold by OEM vendors such as HP (Quote) and off-brand system builders, as well.

In the Windows Home Server demo, Microsoft officials showed that from the server console, the administrator (in this case, "dad") can monitor all of the computers on a network and manage them, such as turning on a firewall or setting up regularly scheduled backups. In a demonstration of 21st century parenting, the product manager denied his son access to his music collection as punishment for turning off the firewall.

Home Server will also do disk mirroring, so if the drive in your computer dies, you can install a new physical drive and it will build an entirely new image of your drive, complete with Windows, applications and settings. No more reinstall headaches.

Home Server customers will get a free domain name from Windows Live, which will allow users to access the entire network remotely. So long as you have browser access, you will be able to access the computers on the network to get and put files or manage the network.

Gates closed out the keynote by discussing where he thinks the PC is headed. He discussed 64-bit migration, noting that thanks to backwards compatibility capability, the task was managed considerably better than previous moves to larger address spaces.

"Most of what's being sold in server and client computers have 64-bit capability sitting, waiting and capable," said Gates. "Sixty-four bits allows us to have lots of memory. Many things we used to think of as disk-based are now becoming memory-based."

Microsoft is now working on more memory-based applications, such as massive databases and business intelligence.

Gates also discussed unusual form factors for computers and natural user interfaces. This included speech recognition via the TellMe acquisition and a recent breakthrough at Microsoft in recognizing Chinese and Japanese characters.

He also discussed VoIP (define) and unified communications, where Microsoft, Cisco Systems and other networking vendors are duking it out.

"We don't see the desk phone existing as a separate device in the future," said Gates. Finally, he discussed "The Live era," where many computing services are available over the Internet instead of installing them on the local computer.

Gates' act was followed by one of his successors, Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer. Mundie, along with Ray Ozzie, will take over for Gates next year in leading Microsoft's software strategy and design efforts.

Mundie talked of advances in medical devices, some of which were funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

"More and more, society's biggest challenges - health care, the environment -- may be some of the targets where we apply these technologies next. There's no field of science that can advance in a material way without the aggressive use of these technologies," he said.

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