Under pressure to put his company back on the growth path,
Chairman Bill Gates unveiled a fistful of Windows on Monday, while firing shots across the bows of
Speaking to 2,800 engineers gathered in Seattle for the company's annual Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, Gates touted the just-released 64-bit version of Windows, and demonstrated features of the far more important version of Windows called Longhorn, which will be released late next year.
"Longhorn and the new 64-bit versions of Windows are the best foundation for a new generation of faster, more powerful hardware and software that expands the possibilities for computing and transforms the way we work and play," Gates said.
Microsoft is spending more to develop and market Longhorn than any product in its history -- and with good reason. The company's stock has been stagnant for some time and many analysts believe that Longhorn is Microsoft's best opportunity to turbo-charge sales and excite investors.
The 64-bit versions of Windows XP and Windows Server, said Gates, are "the base upon which we'll build Longhorn." Simply put, 64-bit computing allows computers and software to work with data in 64-bit chunks, twice as many as most systems can deal with now. This increases performance, and most significantly, allows PCs to take advantage of much more memory than existing machines.
In one demonstration during the speech, a Microsoft engineer compared the levels of complexity in graphics created by 32-bit and 64-bit software, and then noted that today, it takes roughly three days to render, or convert, enough drawings to make a 12-second video. With 64-bit software, rendering can be completed overnight, he said.
In well-orchestrated announcements, two of the most important computer companies --
-- announced business desktops and workstations that will run Microsoft's 64-bit operating system. But with many businesses likely to upgrade to Longhorn, which also will be a 64-bit product, it's not clear how much demand there will be for the version released Monday.
Gates showed off several key features of Longhorn, including beefed-up technology for searching one's own hard drive, improved security and a new document format that will give users the ability to view and print documents created in applications the user does not have.
The document management technology is clearly aimed at Adobe's ubiquitous Acrobat Reader, while the search engine is likely to challenge Google's new desktop search capability.
Interestingly, Microsoft dropped plans to include a radically revised file and search system in the first versions of Longhorn, an omission that threatened to make the software much less exciting. Although the technology to "find and visualize" data unveiled Monday isn't nearly as radical as the file system, it's pretty glitzy.
Users can find and launch applications by typing just a few letters, and look inside files by merely mousing over them. Longhorn can also create virtual folders, i.e., collect related information from multiple files and present it without changing the original documents.
Separately, Microsoft said Monday that it hired Chris Liddell as the company's chief financial officer effective May 9. He replaces former CFO John Connors, who retired in January.
Liddell previously served as CFO at
, and before that was chief executive officer of Carter Holt Harvey, one of New Zealand's largest forest-products companies.