WinHEC Bill Gates kicked off the Microsoft Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) by announcing the second beta versions of Windows Vista, Windows Server (Longhorn) and Office 2007. Then, in what passed as a rock 'n' roll moment, he presented a slightly bemused customer with a framed edition of the betas on gold-coloured DVDs.
Microsoft is a hive of activity at the moment and Gates had a lot of ground to cover in his one hour on stage. He set the scene by explaining that the company is trying to make life easier for its customers by delivering more secure and reliable products.
He also said a number of Windows Server products will be moving to 64-bit only versions. This will start with Exchange 2007, but other products in the pipeline include the Small Business Server Edition currently being developed under the name of Cougar.
The move is a result of the extra power that is being provided by x86-based, 64-bit processors and the scalability these provide. Gates said Microsoft's strategy "is a clear message that 64-bit is here to stay and will be pervasive".
Other advances in computer hardware and networking are also ringing in the changes. The lowering of costs of non-volatile memory used in storage devices means inclusion of these memory chips on the motherboard opens up new possibilities.
Gates announced the company's support for SuperGo technology that will use these chips to capture the current image of the computer's state when Windows is placed in hibernation. The next time the computer is turned on the memory will enable a faster start and put less strain on the hard disk.
The next stop on the Gates tour was Microsoft's commitment to virtual servers and a first airing of the Windows Server virtualisation software that will accompany Longhorn.
Next up was Chevron general manager of IT Alan Nunns, who came on stage to tell Bill how great Microsoft is and how the oil and gas business would implode without him. Gates handed over the framed set of betas as a reward for showing up, and Nunns left the stage.
Then the mobile world became the focus and Microsoft's commitment to the tablet PC as the platform of the future was reaffirmed. Gates also said he feels Media Centre is now coming together as the entertainment operating system for the home.
In the telecoms arena there were three new phones from Motorola, Philips and Uniden that support Windows Live Messenger. The phones can connect to a user's remote PC through the Microsoft online service to find contact information stored within the Windows Messenger instant messaging system. This is a precursor of the future of Microsoft's interpretation of online services and will be expanded to encompass many more services, Gates promised.
The keynote was based around the established skeletal framework of release promises, hard news, performing users, and pantomimes based on living the Windows dream. At least this year there seems to be a bit more meat on these bones. ®