March 7, 1997 10:00 AM ET
Microsoft ready to show 'zero administration'
By Lisa DiCarlo and Norvin Leach

  Microsoft Corp. this week will demonstrate for the first time its "zero administration" initiative, taking the initial steps in its goal to ease Windows PC management.

At a press conference on the eve of the CeBIT trade show in Hannover, Germany, Microsoft will show beta versions of pieces of its ZAW (Zero Administration for Windows) technology, sources familiar with the company's plans said.

The technology, along with the NetPC, is Microsoft's answer to Java-based network computers that aim to simplify and bring down the cost of ownership of PCs. While ZAW originally was not slated to ship until the release of Windows NT Workstation 5.0, Microsoft now plans to release the first pieces of the initiative in the third quarter as an add-on for NT 4.0, sources said.

The ZAW initiative is an all-encompassing program that includes hardware and software (see chart), and selected pieces will be ready this summer. At CeBIT, Microsoft will preview a Universal Serial Bus driver based on the Windows Driver Model, single-step system lockdown and client configuration stored on a server, sources said.

Client configuration lets users work from different PCs connected to a network, with the user's configuration and settings replicated on whatever system to which the user is logged in.

Other pieces of ZAW still under development are an automatic installation and update function; upon boot-up, the operating system searches for new software or upgrades on the network and automatically installs them on the client.

The Zero Administration Windows Initiative

Windows Driver Model Unified driver for Windows 95 and Windows NT devices
OnNow Powers down some parts of PC, enabling 5-second boot-up time; maintains LAN connection for off-hours maintenance
Automatic System Update Checks server for changes on boot-up; installs operating system or application changes automatically
NetPC Sealed case design keeps users from adding or removing software or hardware
Server-based control Enables operating system, applications and configurations to be stored on server while updates are made centrally. Lets users roam from system to system while server replicates settings.
DMI 2.0 Allows remote management of DMI-compliant systems

While ZAW tools will play a big part in lowering the cost of Windows systems for forthcoming NetPCs, ZAW will also help lower the cost of full-fledged Windows PCs. ZAW features such as OnNow, the Win32 Driver Model and Desktop Management Interface 2.0 will each play a role in that space.

In fact, Microsoft's CeBIT demonstrations will be on desktop PCs from Compaq Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Computer Corp., sources said.

Those PC companies and others will incorporate properties of ZAW in forthcoming NetPCs, sources said. Microsoft, Intel Corp. and their OEM partners are finalizing the NetPC specification for these systems, which should hit the market by midyear.

By releasing some ZAW pieces early, Microsoft hopes to gain more mind share on the total cost of ownership issue, which has become an IT hot button.

"TCO is such a hot issue right now, Microsoft will get the tools out as they become available," said one source. "Why wait for NT 5?"

Microsoft plans to begin beta testing NT 5.0 in the second half of the year, with commercial release scheduled for late 1997 or early 1998. Given the expected six-month beta test cycle, sources indicated that early 1998 is a more likely date for the release.

For now, some IT managers remain skeptical. "ZAW, like the NetPC, just seemed to be a reaction to the network computer craze," said an IS manager for a Fortune 500 company. "I'll believe they have a legitimate plan when I see the technology."

Microsoft officials in Redmond, Wash., declined to comment.

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