Windows XP is supposed to offer stability and Web-connectivity—great attributes for design engineers creating products in a digital world.
Shorthand for "experience," the new operating system comes as Home Edition, XP Professional, or XP Embedded (a version for thin clients such as set-top boxes and kiosks). Like Windows 2000, XP is based on the code in NT—which was originally designed to run servers and high-performance workstations—so Microsoft says it now brings that stability to the desktop. (Windows 95, 98, and ME are based on the two-decade-old MS-DOS code.)
Aside from hearing Madonna's theme song on XP's television ads every day since its Oct. 25 launch, how can design engineers experience XP?
Most MCAD suppliers have announced compatibility with the new platform. But only a few have made changes to take advantage of Microsoft's .NET Web-based computing paradigm. Many software suppliers have merely offered compatibility with their existing code—including CoCreate, IBM's Tivoli, SolidWorks, and Cadkey. But Alibre and PTC have plans to use this Web-leveraged collaboration power.
"We were aggressive with it," says Greg Milliken, VP of marketing at Alibre, an XP-certified platform. "We see some fundamental differences between Windows 95 and NT or 2000. Not just in the pure performance of local applications, but with Passport and Windows Messenger."
XP's Passport function serves as a universal authentication for Web users; so a user can register just once with Microsoft, instead of with every secure site she visits. Some users are uncomfortable, however, that Microsoft would own all their passwords and credit card numbers.
Windows Messenger is a type of instant messaging (IM) that lets users contact others online with text (or voice) messages that pop onto the screen immediately as they're written.
"We could integrate it with Alibre, so you could use an IM session as an invitation list to an Alibre collaboration session," Milliken says. "You can also get pretty good voice-over-IP and video. It really is cool." Voice over Internet protocol (VOIP) is a way to converse over your Web connection instead of the telephone. More abstractly, XP boots faster, sleeps more reliably to save power, and is crisp and stable all-around, he says. Its .NET framework is "fuel" for Alibre's peer-to-peer, distributed design paradigm.
But XP is not just Web-savvy—it's also very fast. "One feature that got put in specifically because engineers asked for it is extended memory support," says Chris Ray, Microsoft's global director for engineering marketing. Windows 2000 had 3GB of memory; one for the operating system and two for application code. But XP offers 4GB; with three for applications—this means engineers can work with 50% larger models (or work faster with smaller ones), manipulating complex 3D solid models directly out of RAM memory, not slowly trading data with the hard drive. (This service was available in the server version of Windows 2000, but not on the desktop.)
And the memory is even greater in the 64-bit version of XP, released at the same time as the 32-bit version for XP Pro, but not until next year for the other editions. That code will supply 16MB memory support, supporting number-intensive jobs like desktop FEA analysis, and high-performance clustering.
"Another feature engineers will like is that you can run applications remotely," says Ray. "With Remote Desktop, a user can have a virtual session on his machine running on someone else's system, to do collaboration." (You could do this in UNIX systems before).
"We're getting great support from the big three—EDS PLM, Dassault, and PTC," he says. "They like the improved performance and reliability, but we expect the real gains in productivity will come from collaboration."
For instance, Solid Edge's Insight, a PDM module that uses Microsoft's SharePoint server, ties together the .NET world and the XP desktop world, said Ray.
Likewise, when it ships in August, Pro/ENGINEER 2002 will have two major enhancements, says PTC's CTO Jim Heppelmann—a Web-based CAD-collaboration architecture code-named Wildfire, and XP usability. The company has already announced XP compatibility for Pro/ENGINEER 2001.
On the other hand, the new "Cadkey 20 Technology," with its flagship GraphX professional drafting application, essentially shrugs at XP. The new line is XP-certified, but CEO Bob Bean plans to walk—not run—to upgrade his OS. "It's supposed to be more stable, but we'll see," he says. "Right now we're finding Windows 2000 to be very stable, but 98 is not recommended, and 95 is not supported."
SolidWorks is also wary. It announced XP-compatibility, so users can more easily navigate between 3D CAD and office apps like Excel (to create bills of materials) and Outlook (to email CAD files). And its future releases will have abilities that are .NET-enabled, such as 3D Part Stream.NET, which publishes interactive, Web-based catalogs. But the company said it had not committed to total buy-in, "since there's still enough power on your local CPU to do most things," says Dave Corcoran, EVP of R&D.
Corcoran expects users to migrate to XP merely because it's new, but not so much because of what's in it. It does do some "interesting" things, like blending a Web browser with its current interface, he says. But SolidWorks is "not completely happy with" another innovation—a feature that emails Microsoft the details of any system crash… and makes SolidWorks nervous about revealing secrets of its code. Likewise, the company said it had not yet felt much pressure to migrate to the 64-bit code version.
Also, CoCreate (Fort Collins, CO) announced XP compatibility for OneSpace 2002, its collaborative design application.
Other new XP features are: personal firewalls (good for remote users) and built-in support for the 802.11 wireless standard—no Bluetooth or Java here. These shortcomings will soon change—Sun has provided a free Java patch on its website, and Microsoft has announced plans for a patch that will add Bluetooth and USB 2.0 ability. An XP server version is in the works; the Windows .NET Server will be released later in 2002, with native support for XML. This will allow applications to communicate and share data over the Web while integrating a variety of operating systems and programming languages.
Detractors note that the Web focus hurts security, and that XP's beefed-up system requirements will require some users to replace their machines—XP needs at least a 233 MHz CPU (300MHz or more recommended), 64MB of RAM, 1.5 GB free disk space, a super-VGA resolution monitor, and a CD-ROM or DVD drive. But this should not be a problem if you've upgraded your machine in the past two years.
For more information about Windows XP from Microsoft: Enter 533