Microsoft to get technical on Longhorn and 'Palladium'

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Microsoft Corp. will demonstrate its much debated Next-Generation Secure Computing Base (NGSCB) security initiative for the first time next week at an event in New Orleans, and will also provide further details on its plans for managing IT systems.

At its Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), an annual event where Microsoft tells hardware makers what it is doing with Windows, the software maker also plans to share more information on Longhorn, the next version of its operating system for desktops planned for release in 2005.

Other topics on the agenda include the recently announced Windows CE .NET 4.2 for handheld devices and embedded systems, and Windows Real-Time Communications Server, Microsoft's instant messaging server formerly called Greenwich.

New to WinHEC this year is an "innovation room" which will have about 14 products that Microsoft and its hardware partners are working on for release over the next one to three years. They include large, high resolution displays and an "ultra mobile PC," as well as what Microsoft referred to as an "advanced communications PC," according to a statement.

With 18 hours of technical sessions devoted to NGSCB, WinHEC will be key in the development of Microsoft's hardware-based security technology, better known by its former codename Palladium. NGSCB is a combination of new hardware and software that Microsoft says will greatly improve the security of PCs, although critics have raised concerns about user privacy. NGSCB may be included in Longhorn, Microsoft has said.

"This new security product is important for Microsoft and it is important to get a demo out. This is the first time we will see what it is going to look like and we will be able to estimate what kind of an investment it is going to take to deploy Palladium," said Mike Cherry, a lead analyst at Directions on Microsoft Inc., in Kirkland, Washington.

NGSCB includes a new software component for Windows called a "nexus" and a chip that can perform cryptographic operations called the Security Support Component. The technology creates a second operating environment within a PC that is meant to protect the system from malicious code by providing secure connections between applications, peripheral hardware, memory and storage.

Future antivirus applications, for example, would be able to run in a secure execution environment to guarantee that the application is not corrupted, according to Microsoft.

The technology has attracted critics, however, who have said it could be a scourge for user freedom. NGSCB would enable stricter enforcement of DRM (Digital Rights Management) technologies, for example, and the security chip carries a unique security key that could potentially be used to identify a user's PC.

Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates in his opening keynote is expected to mention advances in Microsoft's Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI), the company's response to autonomic computing plans that IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc. are promoting for self-healing, self-configuring and self-optimizing systems.

IT managers face a profusion of data, devices, applications and personnel, and need technology that will help them integrate and run their intricate environments more efficiently, freeing up resources to invest in new initiatives, according to Microsoft.

"One of the chief concerns of most CIOs today is that there is too much complexity in the IT environment," said Eric Berg, technical product manager for the Windows Server Group at Microsoft. The first product that is part of DSI was Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 software, launched last week. Other components will be rolled out over the next several years.

WinHEC also is one of two key shows where Microsoft will provide further details about Longhorn, Directions on Microsoft lead analyst Cherry said.

"There are really two conferences that define Longhorn, the first is WinHEC and the second is Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference in October. To me it is not really interesting until October what Longhorn is going to be, until we know what is coming out of WinHEC and the Professional Developers Conference it is speculation," Cherry said.

IDC Research Analyst Alan Promisel sees WinHEC as sort of a "coming out party" for Longhorn.

"For many it will be the first opportunity to sit down and get briefed on the finer aspects of Longhorn," he said.

Other future technologies Microsoft will talk about include three-dimensional (3D) user interfaces that will boost productivity by eliminating the need for printing when working with large documents, according to Gartner Inc. Fellow Martin Reynolds. The large, high resolution displays that Microsoft will show in the new Innovation Room may be a prelude to the 3D user interface.

WinHEC is a highly technical conference aimed at hardware makers who need to make products that work with Microsoft's software. The hardware makers usually are among the first to hear about Microsoft's new plans because they need long lead times to develop products. Driver development, for example, is a topic also addressed at WinHEC.

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