Monday used the Comdex Fall 2002 tradeshow as a springboard to unveil a host of new Windows XP Media Center PC manufacturers and a slew of product announcements, including a target date for the release of Visual Studio .NET 2003 (code-named "Everett") and Windows .NET Server 2003.
Microsoft launched Windows XP Media Center Edition in conjunction with hardware partner Hewlett-Packardin October. The Media Center version of Microsoft's operating system, originally code-named Freestyle, is intended to bring together the television, stereo and PC, allowing the user to play DVDs and music CDs, manage a digital music library, and even store digitally recorded television on the PC -- all controllable with a remote control.
On Monday, Microsoft added a number of hardware partners to the mix, including Gateway, Alienware, ABS Computer Technologies, and CyberPower. The manufacturers each have their own slant. For instance, Gateway's offerings will be available on Nov. 22, and consumers can choose to go with Gateway's 42-inch plasma TV display or LCD monitor. Alienware has gone a different route with ultracompact, small-form-factor systems.
For developers, the most significant Microsoft announcement to emerge from Comdex is likely the April, 2003 target for the release of Visual Studio .NET 2003, which will feature full integration of the .NET Framework with Windows .NET Server 2003; improved scalability with support for up to 32 processors; improved performance; and an additional set of tools for building applications using new Web services specifications like WS-Security, WS-Routing and WS-Attachments. Microsoft released the final beta of the development environment on Monday.
Microsoft also said Visual Studio .NET 2003 includes full support for Windows Forms and is 98 percent conformant with the International Organization for Standardization's (ISO) C++ standard. Microsoft has also fully integrated Visual J# with the development environment.
On the mobile front, the development environment will offer full support for more than 200 Web-enabled devices, including Web site META Language-capable phones, pagers and wireless PDAs via the ASP.NET mobile controls.
Microsoft also released the .NET Compact Framework for smart devices on Monday. The .NET Compact Framework is a platform and runtime that allows enterprise developers to use Visual Studio .NET to manage code and XML Web services on mobile devices. In the next few weeks, Microsoft said Visual Studio .NET 2003 beta customers will be able to deploy production applications based on the .NET Compact Framework via a Go Live license.
The long-awaited Windows .NET Server 2003 -- scheduled for release in April, 2003 -- also got a moment in the sun Monday, with Microsoft promising at least two times the performance across most workloads, as compared to previous versions.
"This is built to be the fastest Windows Server yet! When development of Windows .NET Server 2003 began, we set out to beat the great successes of Windows 2000 performance and deliver what customers were asking for," said Brian Valentine, senior vice president of the Windows Division at Microsoft. "The engineering enhancements we've made to the product have yielded exceptional results for performance while maintaining the high bar on quality and security that customers want."
The company said its performance engineering on the new Windows Server focused on four core elements: process scheduling, memory management, the disk subsystem and networking services. Microsoft said improvements in all four areas allowed it to increase scalability and performance across key server roles -- from database server to application server, Web server, file and print server, directory services and terminal services.
Microsoft said it also enhanced Active Directory in Windows .NET Server 2003, enabling faster logon for end users and faster data replication for remote offices. It also redesigned Internet Information Services (IIS) to incorporate an advanced process model to improve reliability and performance.
The new server operating system will support Itanium 2-based, 64-way multiprocessing systems.
On the application front, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates used his keynote address at Comdex Sunday to unveil a new Office application, dubbed OneNote, which Microsoft plans to release in mid-2003. The application builds on some of the note-taking capabilities Microsoft built for its Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system, offering a better way to "meet the needs of note-takers who want a better solution for organizing, accessing and sharing notes."
The application is geared for both desktop and laptop users -- who will be able to use the application to take typewritten notes -- as well as Tablet PC users, who will have the additional ability to capture handwritten notes, pictures and diagrams.
Microsoft said the OneNote application will allow users to take free-form notes as they would in a notebook by clicking and writing or typing anywhere on a page. A tabbed interface allows users to create and manage multiple notebooks, and an auto-save feature is included to prevent the loss of notes. Additionally, notes taken with OneNote will be fully searchable.
"Note-taking is a highly personal process that has not been well supported by computer software," said Jeff Raikes, group vice president of productivity and business services at Microsoft. "OneNote complements individual styles for capturing and organizing thoughts. It pairs the flexibility of a paper notebook with the organizational efficiency of digital content."
Finally, Microsoft Monday said that Windows Powered Smart Displays -- a consumer-oriented product that is somewhat similar to Microsoft's more business oriented Tablet PC technology -- will hit store shelves on Jan. 8, 2003.
Smart Displays are wireless, touch-screen monitors that allow consumers to use their home computers anywhere in their houses. ViewSonic will be the first U.S. manufacturer to make Smart Displays available. The displays will include integrated wireless support, a USB wireless adapter for the PC, and an upgrade to Windows XP Professional (required to operate the displays). As a promotion, ViewSonic is offering all customers who pre-order the displays a free docking station.