Microsoft gears up for annual hardware shindig

At WinHEC, the software maker will look to maximize Vista's release and rev up for Longhorn Server and Home Server, both due later this year.
Written by Ina Fried, Contributor
In recent years, tech enthusiasts have turned to Microsoft's spring hardware conference as a chance to get juicy tidbits on where the software maker was headed with the next version of Windows.

With Windows Vista having hit store shelves in January, things will be a little different this week when more than 2,000 people descend on downtown Los Angeles for the annual Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC). There, the software maker is expected to split its attention between talking about how Vista is doing and looking forward to two server releases--Longhorn Server and Windows Home Server, both due later this year.

"Every year is different," said Kevin Kutz, a director in the Windows Client unit. "It's always something of great value for hardware engineers and the industry at large. Some years are bigger than others in terms of news for a broader audience."

On the Vista front, Microsoft is expected to talk about how consumers are reacting to the operating system roughly 100 days after its mainstream launch.

"The big overarching message is that there is tremendous innovation opportunity in the Windows platform, both Windows Vista and Windows Server Longhorn coming up."
--Kevin Kutz, director, Windows Client unit

"It will be a straightforward conversation about where things are," Kutz said. Typically, Microsoft relies on its keynote speeches to highlight the best in Windows hardware and uses its detailed sessions to work with hardware makers to address the things that aren't necessarily going so well. In the past, for example, Microsoft has devoted a number of sessions to topics such as improving video quality in media centers.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates will kick off the event with a keynote speech on Tuesday, followed onstage by Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer. Server executive Bill Laing is among those scheduled to speak Wednesday, along with Mike Nash, the former security boss who was named in February to head Windows product management.

"I think the big overarching message is that there is tremendous innovation opportunity in the Windows platform, both Windows Vista and Windows Server Longhorn coming up," Kutz said.

Although Mundie is expected to speak broadly about where hardware and software are headed in the next decade, the company isn't expected to say much, if anything, about post-Vista releases. Microsoft set the tone with a February press statement indicating it had nothing to say about future Windows versions.

Staying focused on Vista
"We are not giving official guidance to the public yet about the next version of Windows, other than that we're working on it," Kutz said. "When we are ready, we will provide updates."

Kutz reiterated that message on Friday.

"We really want to make sure people understand how much value and opportunity remains in Vista," Kutz said. "It's fair to keep it focused on that as much as possible."

The company also is not expected to offer a date or details on the first service pack for Vista.

Microsoft's attempts at secrecy aren't always 100 percent successful. While the company is expected to announce Windows Server 2008 as the official name for Longhorn Server at the show, it inadvertently leaked the name on its own Web site on Friday.

Among other things on tap for WinHEC is a speech from technical fellow Mark Russinovich, who is expected to talk about changes Microsoft has made to the Windows kernel and the opportunities that represents for hardware makers.

Last week, Microsoft took care of some unpleasant news, announcing that it was removing several features from its "Viridian" virtualization technology to make sure it can be released within a half year of Longhorn Server. Microsoft released a public test version, beta 3, of Longhorn Server late last month and said it will finalize the code before the end of the year, though its formal launch may not come until 2008.

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