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