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-- by Mike Elgan and Cynthia Morgan
If Microsoft has a singular goal for the next version of Windows, that goal is surely catch-up. The product doesn't even have a name yet-code-named Memphis, it'll probably be christened Windows 98-but it is set to incorporate, support or otherwise catch up with advances in PC hardware, microprocessor technologies, other operating systems and, most of all, the Internet. And if Microsoft does ship all the promised features, then the world's most popular operating system will take a quantum leap forward.
Some enhancements have long-term implications. For example, Memphis includes the Win32 Driver Model (WDM), giving hardware makers a single driver platform on both Windows 9.x and Windows NT for new devices that use Universal Serial Bus (USB) and IEEE 1394 interfaces-improving Plug-and-Play functionality-along with older legacy hardware. This boosts the Windows NT platform, since the vendors who support WDM for their Windows products will now support NT automatically.
Meanwhile, the release will incorporate features now found only in standalone products. For example, Memphis will have all the bells and whistles in Windows 95's OEM Service Release 2, which is currently available only with new PCs. Most prominently, there's FAT32, a new 32-bit file system that supports large hard drives. Microsoft will ship FAT32 versions of Defrag, FDISK, Format and ScanDisk; the drive properties dialog box in Memphis will be updated to indicate whether the drive is FAT32 or FAT16. And Microsoft will add a version of the Compression Agent, which allows you to compress hard-drive data selectively.
Lots of convergence
If you like the idea of convergence, you'll have a field day with Memphis. It will be the first OS to support Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI), the Intel/Microsoft/Toshiba specification for extending desktop power management. ACPI lets the operating system control multiple devices connected to the PC. Simply pop a CD into a PC-connected CD player, for example, and the stereo signals the PC to turn on system speakers. The feature gives developers more control over power-dependent operations than the existing spec, Advanced Power Management (APM), especially when powering down the PC during real-time or protected-mode operation. By January 1, 1998, ACPI will become part of the Windows logo certification process.
Memphis will also let you spread windows across multiple display devices. For example, you can reserve your notebook for speech notes even as you display PowerPoint slides on a projection device (which Macintosh users can already do). It also offers additional video-capture and editing capabilities for multimedia work.
Memphis really gets busy with the Internet. The biggest news here is the highly publicized Web View user interface, which lets you configure your system to look like Win95, like a browser, or like something in between. With Web View, you can move between folders on the desktop, or between local folders and Web sites, using browser-like buttons. Web View actually renders the Desktop, folders and icons using HTML, which you customize.
Another major Internet enhancement is Active Desktop. When used with an NT-based Active Server, Memphis will receive pushed data on the Desktop. For example, you can build a live stock ticker.
Now on TV
The new architecture blurs-but does not eliminate-the distinction between Win 9x and Win NT. Unlike its high-end counterpart, Memphis will continue to have 16-bit backward compatibility. However, NT 5.0, scheduled to ship roughly 90 days after Memphis is released to retailers, will share many features with Memphis, such as ACPI and PCMCIA support. Indeed, Microsoft is carefully positioning NT Workstation as an alternative to Memphis at nearly every level on the desktop side, and users are definitely being prepared for scalable operating systems based on a single, core kernel (see related story)
Many of Memphis' usability features are designed to help NT servers improve the control and manageability of Windows clients in an enterprise. One feature called Code Download Manager determines whether clients have the latest drivers. It works across the Internet or corporate LANs. Memphis includes Super SysEdit, an upgrade to the Windows 3.1x SysEdit utility. Unlike its predecessor, Super SysEdit is designed for network administrators who want to determine which components and drivers will be loaded at start-up on user desktops.
Past the halfway point
You wouldn't know it from the relative lack of hype, but Microsoft is actually more than half done with Memphis. The company issued a second developer's version to hardware manufacturers at a conference last April; it was missing key elements, such as the new Web View shell.
The first beta release, which was scheduled for late spring, includes the new Web View shell and integrates the new Internet Explorer. Between 5,000 and 8,000 users will receive the package; a second, more widespread beta test is likely in late summer. The commercial release probably won't hit the streets until late in 1997-too late for the holiday buying season.
Microsoft insists Memphis hasn't slipped its internal timetable. "We always knew it wasn't going to be a July product, which it would have had to have been for manufacturers to put it on their machines for Christmas sales," said Russ Madlener, product manager for Microsoft's Desktop Operating Systems.
Even if Memphis does miss its ship date, it won't be the first time a Microsoft OS blows its deadline. That just doesn't seem to affect the bottom line.