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Reprinted from PC Magazine, October 24, 1995, pp. 75-76.

Illustration by Steven Salerno
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All the hoopla surrounding Microsoft’s rollout of Windows 95 this past August might lead you to believe that this is the last operating system you’ll ever need. Well, it isn’t. Windows 95 is just another step in the evolution of the PC. There is one thing you can be sure of: The way we work with, live with, and think about our computers will continue to change.

What exactly is an operating system? It isn’t an easy question to answer, because the definition is changing as we move into a world defined as much by the connections between computers as by personal or even LAN-based applications. Microsoft clearly understands this and is already well down the road toward creating the next versions of its Windows operating systems. Apple and IBM are sure to follow suit.

For Windows 95, the next step will be a series of “service packs” that Microsoft plans to issue quarterly. In addition to fixing minor bugs, which are inevitable in any large program, these packs will include new components and drivers. According to Brad Silverberg, vice president and general manager of Microsoft’s personal operating systems division, these updates will be available for free downloading on a number of on-line sites, to corporate customers with maintenance agreements, and on-disk for a nominal fee.

The first Windows 95 service pack, which we can expect to see sometime in October or November, will feature a revised version of Internet Explorer, Microsoft’s Web browser. The revised version will include support for HTML 3.0 and tables (the new Internet Explorer will also be available for downloading separately). Silverberg said that he expects that the first Windows 95 service pack will also include a new NetWare client that will take advantage of new features such as Novell’s NetWare Directory Services, a 3,270-stack protocol manager, and device drivers for such features as infrared connections. One of the future Windows 95 service packs is scheduled to include imaging support.

Nashville dreaming

Let’s look a little further down the road at “Nashville,” the next version of Windows 95. Having guessed wrong the last time, Microsoft won’t commit to a release date for this operating system, but it should be available toward the end of next year. Can you say Windows 96? No? Well, how about Windows 97? Don’t expect this version to represent as big a change as there was between Windows 3.1 and Windows 95. Silverberg told me that Microsoft plans to alternate major and minor releases, with Nashville scheduled as a relatively minor release.

While Microsoft won’t commit to any features now, Silverberg will confirm four major directions for the mainstream operating system. Perhaps most important, Windows will get a lot more Internet connectivity features beyond a significantly enhanced browser. “Integrating the Internet into every aspect of the OS is a key initiative going forward,” Silverberg says. Microsoft is also focusing on higher-bandwidth communications, designed to take advantage of the many new communications devices gaining in popularity, such as ISDN connections.

Another focus is on significant new multimedia components. Some components, such as Direct Draw and Direct Play APIs, will ship earlier in the Game Software Developers Kit, so you can expect to get games sometime later this year that will incorporate these features. Other features, including software MPEG playback, are due to be included in service packs.

Other areas of focus will include hardware innovations, such as new bus architectures, support for the Universal Serial Bus, and an “instant on” feature.

After Nashville, the next major release of Windows is code-named “Memphis.”

Microsoft isn’t publicly discussing Memphis, except to deny strongly some published reports claiming it is designed to be a 64-bit operating system.

Heading toward Cairo

In the meantime, Windows NT is going through its own evolution. By the first half of next year, everyone expects the next version of Windows NT to ship, which will include the Windows 95 shell and support for other Windows 95 elements, such as TAPI. This will give Windows NT the look of Windows 95, as well as support for almost all the programs being developed for it. This facelift may be a “minor” release, but it just might make Windows NT more mainstream.

With all of the “Win32” applications that will be out by then, I expect Windows NT will be compelling to a lot of large companies because it’s more stable, more secure, and better suited for mission-critical applications. It won’t matter to some of these companies that NT requires more hardware, is less compatible with older applications, and doesn’t currently support features like Plug and Play or power management. The primary reason companies are going to buy Windows NT is because it’s more robust.

Up next is “Cairo,” the next big release of Windows NT, slated to go into beta testing toward the end of next year, meaning it might ship sometime in 1997.

Cairo focuses on enterprise users, with advanced features including the long-awaited object file system and distributed objects. Don’t expect Cairo to have an entirely new interface. In Microsoft’s scheme, NT will continue to push the architecture, but the primary user-interface changes will be left to the more mainstream versions of Windows.

Eventually, expect a future version of Windows to use the underlying kernel from NT. But even that won’t be the last mainstream operating system. Microsoft CEO Bill Gates says he sees a need for three operating systems: one for the high end where new technology can be introduced, as it has been in NT; one for the mainstream PC (such as Windows); and one for devices with limited hardware, such as personal digital assistants or set-top boxes. (“Microsoft TV,” a demonstration product for interactive television, shows set-top boxes connected to an NT-based series of machines.)

Of course, Microsoft’s competitors aren’t standing still. Apple is readying a new release of the Macintosh operating system called “Copland,” due out next year. It will have user-interface improvements, more multimedia enhancements, and a shell that allows for multitasking. Copland will be followedby a true multitasking operating system called “Gershwin.”

IBM is readying a microkernel-based version of its OS/2 operating system, first for the Power PC, due later this year, and later for Intel-based machines. IBM seems to be positioning OS/2 Warp more for enterprise clients these days. We should expect to see IBM’s Warp Server later this year, and both IBM and Apple will support Tangents object-oriented CommonPoint frameworks, in addition to the OpenDoc specification for compound documents.

As I’ve been saying for some time, operating systems will continue to change because the Internet is becoming a platform for software development. Even Microsoft finally getting that message. Says Silverberg, “Over time, the operating system will evolve to become a window on the Internet.”

Michael J. Miller

Page added on 12th December 2004.

Copyright © 2002-2006 Marcin Wichary, unless stated otherwise.