TORONTO – The personal computer has evolved from a single purpose machine 20 years ago to one that will continue to redefine how we live and work in the years to come, said Microsoft Canada president David Hemler.
Hemler was speaking at an event celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Windows operating system platform in Toronto’s historic distillery district – a part of the city that, like Windows, has also undergone significant transformation of its own over the last two decades.
Twenty years ago, Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates had the vision of a PC on every desktop in every home. At that time, PCs were predominantly used to run a single application such as a spreadsheet or word processor. Over the last two decades, adoption rates of the computer both in commercial and business markets have been driven by multi-purpose devices from desktop computers to laptops to handhelds like PDAs and smartphones. To date, Microsoft’s Windows installed base stands at over 300 million users and 300 OEMs worldwide.
“We feel like we’re scratching the surface on PC capabilities,” said Hemler. “In the coming decades, PCs are going to redefine how we work and live. Software devices enable this to happen. Business partners make this very rich and real.”
The event, which was attended by industry press and analysts as well as Microsoft partners and customers, also marked the 20-year anniversary since Microsoft Canada first opened its doors in 1985. Microsoft Canada currently has 10 offices across the country and is headquartered in Mississauga, Ont.
As Microsoft enters the third generation of Windows — the next version of its operating system, code-named Vista, scheduled for release in holiday 2006 — the software giant will continue to rely on its partners to bring the product to market.
“The success of the Windows platform is bolstered by our partners,” said Hemler. “We rely on those companies to extend the reach of the Windows platform. They are instrumental in bringing new capabilities and value to market.”
Despite new features and functionality such as built in Web services capabilities that will help keep workers connected better and make decisions faster, Microsoft will have to work on its value proposition to get users to make the switch from 32 to 64-bit computing, according to IDC Canada analyst Dave Senf.
“Microsoft needs to show businesses that Vista will be easy to train its employees on, the platform is secure and reliable and that it won’t negatively impact other applications they have running,” said Senf, adding that Vista has already undergone a long testing period of alpha and now beta versions. “It’s not as obvious of a move as it was from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95. The value proposition is not as clear.”
Microsoft customers like Kal Tire, which is based in Vernon, B.C., for example, haven’t seen a compelling enough value prop from what’s come out of Vista so far to consider switching platforms anytime soon. Kal Tire is currently piloting a Microsoft customer relationship management solution with the help of Microsoft Gold partner Habanero that will be rolled out to its 75 members sales force over the next two to three years. Kal Tire currently runs the Windows 2000 operating system across its organization and its senior Microsoft administrator Jeff Bevans said they are focused on the CRM implementation for now.
“We don’t have a strong business case,” said Bevans, who attended Thursday’s event. “We haven’t seen enough Vista yet.”
Microsoft is encouraging end users that wish to test the Windows Vista Beta 1 to wait until the Beta 2 release. The Windows Vista platform is currently in its second release to developers, IT professionals and other members of the technical community as part of an ongoing program called the Community Technology Preview (CTP). Windows Vista Beta 1 has been tested by more than half a million users overall and is available to end users through the Windows Vista Technical Beta program, subscribers of the Microsoft Developer Network and through Microsoft TechNet.
Partners like Vancouver, B.C..-based Habenero are integral to getting customers like Kal Tire to upgrade to the latest version of Windows. Habenero director of marketing and business development John Atwater said customers that are currently considering moving over to XP will now look at Vista.
“The desktop production tools in Vista offer more build value,” said Atwater.
Also attending the Microsoft event was 16-year-old Hamilton high school student Anthony Chiarelli, who has developed an application for the PACS system that improves the security of the patient data. Chiarelli, who developed the app using Visual Basic 6, saw a need for better security after his aunt, a health care worker at Henderson Hospital in Hamilton told him how anyone with a doctor’s id and password could potentially access patient information in the system.
“The last thing a patient wants to worry about is someone seeing their personal medical information,” said Chiarelli.
The application, which uses similar steganography and cryptography technology that terrorists used to encode data in pictures to evade international authorities, encrypts and encodes the data in the image without losing the image’s integrity.
Chiarelli, who has plans of attending the University of Waterloo, has shared his idea with the chief medical imaging officer at Henderson who said the differences in the images wouldn’t affect an accurate diagnosis. His goal is to one day have his application incorporated into PACS systems across the country.