Vista: The longer view

Michael Hartmann, Microsoft EMEA’s director for Business Group Windows Group, reveals the thinking behind the software giant’s eagerly-awaited new operating system. Matthew Wade reports

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By  Matthew Wade Published  April 2, 2006

|~|Hartmann1body.jpg|~|We’ve changed a bit of our key line-up, claims Microsoft’s Michael Hartmann, on the forthcoming Vista formats. |~|If a week is a long time in politics, it can seem a lifetime away in the IT industry. Last month saw the visit to the region of Michael Hartmann, Microsoft’s EMEA director for Business Group, Windows Client, to discuss the future of Windows Vista, the next-generation version of the firm’s flagship operating system product. Within hours of his interview with ITP on the company’s strategy for Windows Vista, Microsoft’s global PR team announced the company was delaying the rollout of Vista to consumer customers until January 2007. For many, this was a bombshell announcement — the company had repeatedly said that it would definitely launch Vista (previously code-named Longhorn) without fail in 2006. By missing the all-important holiday period, this delay is likely to impact PC sales in Europe and the US, if not globally. The interview that follows is the clearest indication we have had to date at IT Weekly about just what we can expect to see in Vista. However, it is worth pointing out that Microsoft has previously dropped features from the OS to help it make revised release dates — so some of the information presented here may still be subject to change. What is it that you would say Windows Vista will deliver to customers? What are the key things that will change from Windows XP? Obviously we have a good installed base with Windows XP. You could say things are running fine — for people who have SP2 [Service Pack 2 for XP] there might be smaller complaints. But why are we doing this? I would structure the biggest pain points around four areas of feedback that we’ve had especially from corporate customers. First of all, security risks. Most people would say, “Well, with SP2 — most people had their firewall turned up and were using anti-virus software.” The world has become more secure. Also for consumers it’s a secure world to work in. The issues here are twofold: one — its still relatively expensive to keep security maintained; 5% or 6% of the IT budget is dedicated to security maintenance, which isa lot. It’s been spent on something that’s not productive. The other thing is that we’re seeing new forms of attack, like phishing. Even if you had the greatest security concept, you cannot protect your end users from going on to a phishing site and compromising their own security. So we have new things coming up. [Secondly] obviously we heard loud and clear that we need to reduce the cost of controlling and maintaining Windows. What’s interesting today is that we met 50 customers from Dubai and Abu Dhabi and Oman. I would say that 30 of them were using imaging as a way to deploy new PCs. They were saying that otherwise it’s too much cost. The third pain point is information overload, and I would say we all share that. It’s a paradoxical situation — on one hand people have way too much info (docs, e-mail and what have you), but at the same time they don’t find this. So it’s a real pain for consumers, for info workers and for the IT pro. The last thing is an interesting one — because it’s an opportunity as well as a challenge — and that’s the proliferation of form factors. Because people are using a smartphone or PDA — which is great because they’re connected and can access corporate data — but if you don’t want to compromise the security of your corporate network, we have those issues to look at. So those have been the key pain points. How will Vista ship to customers? Will it be similar formats to what we have seen on XP? We’ve basically changed a bit of our key lineup. In the past we did this around hardware: a Media Centre version, the Tablet PC version and so on. We’ve changed that to better meet customer needs. For instance, now we have a version for emerging markets —Starter Edition — which is tailored to the needs of first- time users. XP Starter Edition arrived in the Middle East just weeks ago. Within what timescale can we expect Vista Starter — will the gap be smaller between the OS’ launch and Starter arriving? It’s not the same gap, but there will be a gap, anywhere between three-to-six months. It depends upon our capacity to do the localisation. Sometimes we want to ship languages that are in a language interface pack called LIP. These are probably not the most demanded languages. Secondly, we also make that dependent on any governments having PC programmes within that country. Is Starter Edition only run out with such PC for Homes programmes then? We tend to launch it with government-led programmes. Once launched, we’re not tying it to these. The starter edition of XP has nothing to do with just providing a cheap version of Windows; the intent is to give access to underserved audiences. We cannot do that just ourselves, because we’re just delivering the OS. We have to have hardware partners and governments to help us distribute those PCs. This is why we always wait until we have the government to endorse the programme. And you’re working with Saudi Arabia on its forthcoming initiative? We’re still working with the Saudi government so we have — if you will — a bit already. There’s nothing stopping us doing that. We’re working with the Saudi government to get the partners. ||**|||~|Hartmann3body.jpg|~|Hartmann admits the Arabic version of Vista, described as a tier one language by Microsoft won’t ship with the English version.|~|Presumably this would be after the launch of Vista? Exactly. After the Starter edition, for consumers we have the Home Basic skew. This has the fundamentals, but doesn’t have all the nice 3D and transparency effects that you’ve seen here today. Those are in the Home Premium version. This also includes Media Centre capabilities. Media Centre is no longer a separate skew or product; we’ve included its features into Windows Vista. So you’ll get the Media Centre capabilities in all the other language versions, such as Arabic. Then we have the Home Ultimate skew. This has everything for those users who are both consumers and small business or enterprise users in the sense that they require the same features, such as the bitlocker. Maybe you’re a lawyer who – at home – wants the media centre capabilities, but also wants to make sure your hard disk is encrypted. For small businesses, we have Windows Vista Business. We changed this because for many small businesses the name Professional edition was irritating. They would go to a retailer but think ‘Windows Pro — hmmm, I’m not an IT professional. Neither am I a Home user.” Again, from Vista Business, people can upgrade to Ultimate. For medium and large businesses, we have the business version and they can upgrade to the Enterprise version. Enterprise has bitlocker, as does the Ultimate skew. It has a free version of the virtual PC. So if you need an instance of Windows NT, you can use Virtual PC on a Vista machine; this enables you to run an instance of Windows NT, onto which you can run your legacy app. What are the key differences between Ultimate version and Business version? Ultimate has all the media centre capabilities. You don’t have these in the Business version. There are other media extensions that we keep to the Ultimate skew. The Business skew also doesn’t have full hardware encryption. If you buy the product off the shelf, you get an integrated 32-and 64-bit version. What are the hardware requirements for running Vista? Basically, we’re saying you have to meet the XP logo requirements. Then the performance should be similar on an XP machine. You need a modern CPU, in other words anything that goes above 1.6GHz. You should have 512Mbytes or more of system memory. An interesting one is the graphics – drive model, we introduced a new display driver model for Vista. You need at least 64- or 128Mbytes of RAM on your graphics card. The new graphics chipsets are supporting that environment. If you don’t have that, and frankly a lot of the notebook chips within last 24 months are not full fidelity, then you’ll see a 2D version of the interface. It looks the same, but without transparency effects. Vista is not just a US-developed, US-only product. We actually have a lot of input from EMEA. Not only are we moving towards many more languages — even smaller languages such as Luxembourg’s and Gaelic — but there’s also influence that we did on the engineering of the product. We all know that Europe has greater sensitivity towards privacy, so we used the European Union standards for privacy and data protection as the standard for how we deal with data in Windows Vista. Both IE and Media Player. We already have 64 EMEA ISPs who are already testing Vista against their applications. We also have people here to make sure that Vista is a local product. We have a team here that’s working on the Arabic version, making sure that the translation and terminology are correct. Microsoft describes Arabic as a tier one language for the company. What does that mean in terms of the Arabised Vista release? Two things – if we describe it as a tier one language, it means it has all the features of all full versions. It will get tablet and media centre features and so on. Second, it’s too early to say when exactly; we don’t know what the delay is. It’s fair to say that it won’t simultaneously ship with the English version, probably the only version that will ship with this are the German and Japanese versions. Can we talk about the timing of Windows Vista? We’ve changed the concept in that we’re no longer talking about Beta one and then silence, then Beta two and then silence, and then we ship the product. What we do is we have a concept called the Customer Technology Preview Build. So each quarter we’re shipping a build. The good news is that the February build is complete, it includes all the features that will be in there. Then we’re shipping a next CTP build in the next quarter, where we expect to have a broader engagement [including Middle East users]. This is supposed to be May-June time. We’re still determining the details, but we expect that interested end users will be able to get it on their machines. Micrsoft is building a tool into Vista that will rate how well a PC is running. What’s the reasoning behind that and will it have any bearing on system builders who might end up configuring their PCs to best run Vista? We had feedback that users would like to get a tool that they could use to see, up front, how their PC is optimised for Vista. What they can expect. We try to give that transparency to end users right? So that they can run that tool and find out that their PC is at stage five — maximum performance — or three or whatever. We don’t keep to this to multinationals however, as all system builders will be rated with that. Partners, of course, are interested in whether we can plug in offers from them that say, ‘you’d be so much better off with a new graphics card: here’s one we suggest’. That’s one we look into. Some features won’t be making it into the final Vista versions, such as WinFS. Which features are these, and why, and when might they appear? I think we’ve been very clear with WinFS, even when we shipped to beta one, that WinFS is probably one of those things. WinFS is a new file system, but people thought that, if WinFS isn’t included, then the search function isn’t the same. I think what I’ve explained with the search is that the end user gets all the benefits of a new capable search, source searches, search folders and more. What WinFS would have added would have been a relational database system to the files. That’s mainly attractive for developers, so you can relate info from one file to say okay, that’s meta data that I relate to another file, document or application. That creates new scenarios. It was just too sophisticated at that point, to include that in Vista. There were other details: for example, on the search folders. There are lots of details, which is a normal process when developing such a product. Windows Anytime Upgrade — is that definitely due within Vista? Yes, the concept is that you ship the PC, let’s say with the Home Basic skew, and as an OEM you include a DVD with that PC and then the user can take a look at the benefits of upgrading to Windows Ultimate for example. If at some point they decide to upgrade, they can go to the internet, purchase the upgrade and get a code. With that code they unlock the bit on the DVD to roll out the upgrade from Basic to Ultimate. And these versions will then tie in to Windows Software Assurance online? That’s coming in if they want access to the Enterprise version. If they want this, they need Software Assurance, which is true for all enterprise agreement customers who have platform agreements, and for those like the Open customers who have Software Assurance as part of their contracts. However, if they feel like they don’t have it, but they want to upgrade their installed base, they can just buy the upgrade, as they can still get this through the volume licensing agreement. Will Vista require as many updates as XP does? Obviously the expectation is that it’s less. Given the fact that five years has passed and it’s more secure from the ground up, then it should have less fixes than Windows XP. Honestly, I think there’ll never be a 100% secure and robust operating system, because it’s human in the end. If you talk to the average consumer who uses the automated upgrades turned ‘on’ and done completely automatically, people don’t realise. It’s one of the things people like about XP, without even realising. That concept has been helping. From a business point of view, how will pricing levels of Vista compare to XP? We haven’t disclosed pricing just yet — it’s too early to tell. Personally I don’t expect too many changes or variances in what we’ve done, but we haven’t disclosed those. ||**||

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