Interview

The Honeycutting edge

Ed Parry, News Editor
Of Win2k, XP, ME, 98, etc., do you have a favorite? Why?
Too easy: Windows XP Professional by a huge margin. Windows XP has many more capabilities than its predecessor, Windows 2000. And even though Windows XP is largely targeted at consumers, it has a large arsenal of enterprise features. Remote Desktop, reliability features (Device Driver Rollback and System Restore), new deployment features (answer file improvements and new policies), and stronger security are just a few brief examples. It's prettier than Windows 2000 too. Do you think Microsoft has done a good job building on and improving its desktop offerings? Is desktop management getting easier?
Yes, Microsoft is steadily improving its desktop lineup. Nobody can argue that Windows XP is a more productive and stable platform than Windows 98 or Windows NT. Management is certainly easier too, particularly with the policies and the variety of little-used, extremely powerful tool sets that are available. Anyone who is looking for the holy grail in a desktop operating system will be disappointed, but I'm happy with the pace of Microsoft's innovation on our desktops. If anything, I believe that most enterprises think Microsoft is spitting this stuff out at a pace that they can't keep up. You barely master the beast before another springs forward. In all your talks and training seminars, is there any particular problem that keeps popping up over and over?
No one problem sticks out in my mind as being common

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across the board. Most times, when folks approach me with problems, it's usually because they didn't fully understand the technology they are using and didn't understand the technology's limitations. That's why, in my hands-on seminars, I see a lot of really small errors that are frustrating for everybody: sysprep folders put in the wrong place, long file names not enclosed in quotes when they contain spaces, using references to local media rather than UNC paths, etc. We all know these things but forget them when the time comes. What are some of the most prevalent problems someone will face in managing hetereogeneous desktop environments?
I come from a desktop deployment and management angle, so my answer to this is going to be slanted. When I think of mixed desktops, I think management horror. Policy incompatibility, problems with user profiles, tool compatibility all come to mind as significant problems. Most of this stems from the fact that the settings stored in the registry are different enough from one version to the next to cause problems. On top of all that, software deployment requires more careful consideration in a mixed environment. For example, deploying Office XP to Windows 2000 and Windows XP is straightforward but is more complicated on Windows 98 and Windows NT. Mixed environments also bring with them upgrade paths that aren't IT friendly: Windows 98 to Windows XP, for example. With all that said, very few organizations are lucky enough to have homogeneous desktops. What kind of effect will .NET have on the desktop?
On a personal note, I'm excited about .NET. I'm totally behind it, because I can't wait to be better connected to the people and services that I rely on to run my business. Still, I'm a little concerned by the reaction enterprises have when you talk about things as simple as .NET Messenger. They immediately want to eliminate it from their desktop deployments. If they won't adopt .NET Messenger, how are they going to react when .NET really hits the desktop? If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Likewise, Microsoft can build the best .NET desktop, and it means nothing if it isn't adopted. If there's one thing Microsoft could do to improve desktop deployment and use, what would it be?
Microsoft has fulfilled most of my wishes. The company has made Office XP about as easy to deploy as it gets. Its deployment tools are flexible, easy to use, and fit most deployment requirements very well. The company has even turned around its multinational deployment tools. And with Windows XP, answer files have never been more capable. My only regret is that Setup Manager, the tool that you use to build answer files, isn't more complete; you're always going to edit answer files manually. The company wisely left disk imaging technology, other than RIS, up to third-party companies, such as Symantec.
Now for the question: if there's one thing that Microsoft could improve. My wish "du jour" is that software deployment through Active Directory had more capabilities. I'd like to see some of SMS's capabilities there. Most notably, I'd like to have the ability to schedule and inventory through Software Installation and Maintenance. I know that this will never happen, though. Do you think Microsoft will make good on its "trustworthy computing" initiative?
Yes, because it's in their own best interest.

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Do you foresee anyone challenging Microsoft for the "king of the desktop" title?
One day, sure. But that day will come when the entire nature of computing changes altogether. I'm not good at predicting the future (I had predicted that the Web would be a failure and Gopher was the cat's meow), so I'm not going to try to figure out what computing is going to look like in 10 years, but I think that it could just as easily belong to someone else. What happens if the future of computing doesn't rely on a desktop the same way it does now? Microsoft has so bought in to Windows that I'm not so sure it could make that shift easily. Some little guy is probably sitting in his garage right now, unwittingly plotting the demise of the Redmond giant.

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