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Interview with Nicolas Coudičre, Chief Product Manager: Microsoft Windows Millennium Edition (Me) 

ActiveWin.com: What features does Windows Me have that make it a stepping-stone towards a consumer OS based on the Windows 2000 kernel and not Win 9x?

Nicolas Coudičre: Our Goal is to deliver a NT-based OS for consumers in the coming years. We made a significant step further in that direction with Windows Millennium Edition by adding features such as:

  • Removal of Real Mode DOS. Given our objectives in terms of reliability and richness for Consumer Windows, It had become impossible to maintain compatibility with Real Mode DOS in Windows Millennium Edition. NT/2000-based OS doesn’t support it. So this is a significant step towards delivering Windows 2000 reliability to Consumers.
  • System File Protection. This feature is key to what we call “PC Health”. It is the ability for the system to protect and restore automatically. This is one of the key features currently implemented in Windows 2000 Professional. It is now also part of Windows Millennium Edition.
  • Windows Driver Model (WDM). WDM is the ONLY driver model supported by Windows 2000 and its successors.
  • Driver Signature. This feature is also key for NT/2000 architecture. Third parties now have the opportunity to have their Hardware drivers tested and certified for Windows 2000 and Windows Millennium Edition. Once the driver is certified, it receives an electronic signature, which ensures that the driver is totally compliant with Windows. It can be installed without any problem. Non-signed drivers can still be installed on Windows, but then, the system will send a warning to the user in order to make sure the user is aware of the risks of installing non-signed drivers.
  • Fusion 1.0. Fusion is a dream. The dream that users will never hear about DLL files anymore. Version 1.0 of Fusion is implemented in Windows Millennium Edition and Windows 2000. It is the keystone for System reliability in the next years. Here is some information regarding Fusion 1.0 (which I wrote in purple).

Fusion 1.0 is a Windows 2000 and Windows Millennium Edition timeframe solution to  make some limited progress towards fixing DLL Hell.  It does not attempt to solve all the problems, but instead, provide a group of items that will improve the reliability of a limited set of Windows applications. The primary beneficiaries are corporate admins followed by component producers and consumers. Unfortunately, these capabilities don't work in server application (IIS, MTS, COM+ 1.0) scenarios. The first vehicle for the full Fusion 1.0 solution is Windows 2000. But Windows Millennium Edition has some of these features as well.

The key feature important to developers is that Fusion 1.0 enables you to build your client application by putting your dependent DLLs into the same directory as your EXE. All LoadLibrary based activation paths (Win32 dll links, inproc COM links etc), using fully qualified paths or not, will first check for the component in the directory your exe is in before checking the fully qualified pathname or doing the normal path search.  This allows your components to be independent of components installed and used by other applications, helping to eliminate dll hell.  (In server app scenarios like IIS and COM+ 1.0 apps, an application isn't defined by an EXE and thus, cannot benefit from the Fusion 1.0 features. This is being addressed in Fusion 2.0 and Visual Studio 7.0. In addition, components listed in Windows 2000's KNOWNDLLS registry key cannot be overridden. But for Whistler, this has been fixed so that components in KNOWNDLLS can be redirected.)

The dlls you build and use in this fashion must be side by side aware. This means one version can run in one process while another runs in another process. Many controls (dlls) are already side by side aware and isolated from other versions because they don't store any state in the registry.

All these features are not obvious to the user (they don’t “show” in any way). But they really make Windows Millennium Edition a significant step toward harmonization of Consumer and Enterprise Operating Systems.

ActiveWin.com: A lot of people say that they are worried by the folders and filenames that appear in caps. Is this a bug or a feature? If it is a bug do you plan to fix it?

Nicolas Coudičre: I’ve never heard of such problems. I personally use lots of Caps in my folders and file names. I would be happy to get more details, and if needed, I will forward this information to relevant people inside Microsoft.

ActiveWin.com: What are the goals of the new system file protection features? Will these features ease consumer users' troubles in the future?

Nicolas Coudičre: This feature protects the operating system from being accidentally or voluntarily damaged by the user or by any application/driver.

More that 800 files inside Windows are protected by System file protection. When one of these files is corrupted or simply modified, Windows simply regenerates the original file without asking anything to the user. So the system maintains itself up and running transparently.

System File Protection is one of the key features of Fusion (see above). This is really important for the reliability of the system.

ActiveWin.com: How are the new UPnP (Universal Plug & Play) standards set to benefit users?

Nicolas Coudičre: UPnP is a new standard that enables any UPnP - compatible device to set-up and interact dynamically on any network. This is a brand new standard that will play an important part in tomorrow’s housekeeping.

The most important thing with UPnP is that it can work potentially with any kind of device (TV, Stereo, Computer-related devices…), and that the user has nothing to do to make it work !

Should you need more in-depth details on UPnP, please let me know.

The first elements of UPnP are integrated in Windows Millennium Edition. These elements deal with UPnP Printers (and only printers, nothing else for the moment). The benefit is simple. Imagine you are a PC user with two PCs linked with a home network (Ethernet or whatever. UPnP is protocol-agnostic). You need to share printer with both your PCs. Choose a UPnP compatible Printer, just plug it in your network, and it’s done ! No intervention. No settings. That is what UPnP is about.

ActiveWin.com: How long was the development time of Windows Me? Did you overcome any setbacks or set any milestones? How many people were on the development team?

Nicolas Coudičre: It took us more than one year to develop Windows Millennium Edition. More than 1,300 developers, program managers and testers worked on this project. More than 15,000 (yes !) technical beta testers were active on Windows Millennium Edition worldwide. This is the second most important project in Microsoft’s history, after Windows 2000.

ActiveWin.com: Why is the hibernation feature of Windows Me so sensitive? Were you expecting some compatibility problems with this feature when it was in development?

Nicolas Coudičre: The hibernate feature is only present on new PCs. It will not be present in Retail versions. The reason is simple: There are a lot of prerequisites for hibernation to work properly (ie, not hanging when shutting down or when resuming). The most sensitive points deal with ACPI compatibility. Every device driver (display device, sound card, etc…) and the BIOS has to be fully ACPI compatible in order to have hibernation run normally. Checking this is a process that PC manufacturers (OEMs) can handle. But we were sure that the average consumer doesn’t want to hear about BIOS stuff.

So we decided to remove this feature from the Retail version because we were sure that 95% of consumers could not have it run. This would have been a major (and justified) dissatisfaction point for our customers.

And this is also why the feature can even be disabled in the OEM version of Windows Millennium Edition. If PC manufacturers don’t want to make the effort to check all their driver files. Or if the User installs a new “performance” driver for his/her graphic device, Hibernation may not work properly. Instead of letting the PC hang, hibernation is automatically disabled when a non-compatible driver is detected.

ActiveWin.com: What was your main goal for consumers with the release of Windows Me?

Nicolas Coudičre: It was to deliver an update for people who want to take advantage of the digital world. If you want to :

  • Play on your PC (especially network games – Windows Millennium Edition is designed for this
  • Access the Internet on your PC
  • Discover digital multimedia on your PC (digital video or music)

Then, Windows Millennium Edition can bring you a really good experience on these topics.

Windows Media Player 7, Windows Movie Maker, Windows Image Acquisition are really built to let you access the digital world without any problem. You want to create your own music play lists ? Windows Media Player 7 is for you. You want to edit and create your own videos ? With 3 clicks, you’re done in Windows Movie Maker. You want to play Quake III in network with you friends and talk to them live (yes, this is possible with Windows Millennium Edition) ? No problem. You want your PC to boot faster than ever ? Try Windows Millennium Edition: you won’t believe you eyes.

That was our main goal when we decided to work on Windows Millennium Edition.

ActiveWin.com: Do you expect a lot of hardware companies to start producing drivers worthy of being digitally signed in time for the public release of Windows Me in September?

Nicolas Coudičre: Windows Millennium Edition already includes more than 13,000 drivers that are all signed. This is more than any other Operating system on earth.

Actually, almost all the main hardware devices manufacturers will have their drivers signed from now on. This will not be fully ready by Sept 14th. But we’re working on it.

ActiveWin.com: Are there any features that you would have liked to have added to the operating system but didn't? If so, what was excluded?

Nicolas Coudičre: Personally, I’m still dreaming of voice recognition and of a PC able to speak. This is not the case with Windows Millennium Edition.

But out Text To Speech (TTS) technology (you write the sentence in a text file, and TTS translates it into speech) is almost mature. I am sure we will hear of it in the near future.

Voice recognition is still under development at Microsoft. The problem is that is requires huge resources on the machine (you can’t imagine the size of the database needed for voice recognition to work properly). I think it will not be ready until 2005 or so.

ActiveWin.com: What was your favorite moment during the development of this operating system? What is your favorite feature of Windows Me?

Nicolas Coudičre: I am definitely mad about the new Windows Media Player. I can’t stop playing with it, creating new playlists and burning CDs for my best pleasure. I love the skins features.

Our favorite moment during the development is almost always what we call RTM, for Release To Manufacture. This means that the product is final and ready to ship to our manufacturing centers. We had a big party that lasted all night long…

ActiveWin.com: How is the System Restore feature set to help users?

Nicolas Coudičre: System restore offers a “second chance” to users in case of critical issues.

When your systems runs perfectly well, you can make a photo of it (it is called a Checkpoint). If you ever feel your system is not running well any longer, you will have the possibility to roll it back to any previous checkpoint. Users can do so very simply (a few clicks), and the process is completely automatic.

This is System Restore.

ActiveWin.com: Many people who haven't seen or used Windows Me are calling it Windows 98 Third Edition, what would you say to try and convince them that it is a much more than just a bug fix this time around?

Nicolas Coudičre: The question is not the name of the product. The question is rather to know whether you think your PC needs an upgrade or not. If not, that means you are fully satisfied with your PC. Please don’t change anything.

But if you think that your PC boots too slowly, that you want to play network games without learning TCP/IP “how to” guide, that you want to create your own movies and listen to great music, then Windows Millennium Edition is really for you. And believe me, you will love it. It has really nothing to do with Windows 98.

ActiveWin.com: Is there an expected Service Pack release for Windows Me? If so, what are some of the features/fixes that will be included?

Nicolas Coudičre: Microsoft doesn’t plan to release any Service Pack for Windows Millennium Edition at this stage. However, any security or bug fix we may release for Windows Millennium Edition will be found at this address : http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com

ActiveWin.com: Windows Me comes with an interesting video tool: Windows Movie Maker. Do you plan to regularly update this software like you do for IE & the Windows Media Player 7?

Nicolas Coudičre: We definitely plan to update it on a regular basis. I don’t know how we will do that for the moment.

ActiveWin.com: What new features are in WinMe that support processor-heavy desktop gaming? Is there any support for 64-bit processors?

Nicolas Coudičre: Heavy gaming!? Is more than 1GB of RAM enough gaming ? Windows Millennium Edition supports it without any problems.

The most important thing with Windows Millennium Edition is that it will always support the best available gaming device on the market. You need a faster display device? It’s designed for Windows Millennium Edition. You need a force feedback, infrared, ball-less mouse, If it ever exists, it will run on Windows Millennium Edition.

Windows Millennium Edition is not 64 bit compliant. But this is certainly not an issue since no 64 bit games exist for the moment (and none is planned).

ActiveWin.com: Do you have anything else to add?

Nicolas Coudičre: I’d be happy to invite you for lunch one day. I would appreciate meeting with you.

Additional links: WIA architecture descriptive http://www.microsoft.com/hwdev/wia/

WIA compliant devices: http://www.microsoft.com/hwdev/WIA/WinME_WIAdrv.htm

 

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This interview was arranged with Julien Jay of the ActiveWin.com team
on location in France.


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