July 24, 2000

By Karen Kenworthy


Wow! A blast from the past! Last week I got a phone call, then a visit (he's in town for his son's baseball tournament), from Rick, a programmer I worked with 25 years ago. We started our careers together, writing banking software on mainframes, at a computer company known as Burroughs. We were such kids back then, having fun with someone else's million dollar computers!

<sigh> Those were the days.

We parted company almost 20 years ago, when I left Burroughs to do other things. Since then we've barely kept in touch. Rick still works for Burroughs, now known as Unisys. And he still creates great software for banks, though now that software runs under Windows. Most importantly, Rick's a contented father of two, and long-time husband of one. Rick's a good man. In short, he's done very well with his life.


Odd that Rick's visit would come on the heels of our own trip down memory lane. It was just last week that we talked about the evolution of Windows and PCs, in advance of the upcoming debut of 64-bit versions of both. Not surprisingly, our little jaunt triggered a lot of questions.

Reader Erik Smalley wrote, asking why I hadn't mentioned "Windows Whistler" when discussing future 64-bit versions of Windows. He pointed out that beta versions of Whistler are already being circulated. And Whistler is indeed an important part of Windows' future. To see why, let's take a quick look at the Windows family tree.

When Windows was born, it came into the world as a 16-bit program. Over the years, other 16-bit versions of Windows were released, including Windows 2.0, Windows 2.11, Windows 3.0, Windows 3.1, and Windows for Workgroups. Together, these versions of Windows are sometimes referred to as the Win16 generation.

Being a 16-bit program was important in those days, because most of the microprocessors of the day could only handle 16-bits of data at a time. In fact, some, like the Intel 8088, were barely 16-bit CPUs, actually providing a mixture of 8- and 16-bit features and instructions. But eventually, Intel released its first fully 32-bit CPU, the 80386. Slowly, this chip would drag Windows into the 32-bit world.

Initially, Microsoft responded with hybrid 16/32-bit versions of Windows such as Windows/386 and Windows 32s under Windows 3.1. But in 1995 the first member of a new generation arrived. Called Windows 95, it was the firstborn of the 32-bit Win32 generation, a Windows directly descended from the first. Eventually, it was joined by other Win32 members including Windows 98, Windows 98SE, and soon, Windows Millennium (a.k.a. Windows Me).

Along the way, Microsoft realized that Windows' 16-bit past was becoming a burden. It was growing increasingly difficult to create newer versions of the Win32 generation, while building on the foundations of the now aged Win16 generation. As a result, Microsoft decided to create a new branch of the Win32 family, a family known as Windows NT. This version of Windows was written completely from scratch, without building on the older Windows code. Current members of this family include Windows NT 4.0, and all flavors of Windows 2000.

That brings us up to today. There are currently two distinct families in the Win32 generation. One, often called Win9x, can trace its roots back to the now extinct Win16 generation. The other, referred to as WinNT, came into the world without a Win16 heritage, or baggage, as the case may be. But both are united by a common bond. They are both members of the 32-bit generation of Microsoft Windows.

So what's next? First, the days of the Win9x family are numbered. Windows Me will be the last of its kind. All future members of the Win32 generation will be descended from the WinNT family. The current version of that family is Windows 2000. The next is currently codenamed Windows Whistler. When released, it will probably be called something like Windows 2001.


But before Windows Whistler is released, a new generation of Windows will appear. Members of this generation will be 64-bit programs, able to take full advantage of the new features of 64-bit processors such as Intel's Itanium. As you've probably guessed, this generation will be called Win64.

Where does the Win64 generation fit into the Windows family tree? Naturally, it's descended from the Win32 generation. In fact, it's a direct descendant of the WinNT family of Win32, since the Win9x family is an evolutionary dead-end. The relationship between the Win64 generation and the WinNT family is very close. So close, that the first member of the Win64 generation will be named Windows 2000, after its Win32 ancestor.

That's right. By the end of this year there will be two Windows 2000s. One will be our current, familiar version -- a 32-bit program, and a part of the Win32 generation. But by year end it will be joined by a 64-bit version of Windows 2000, the beginning of the new Win64 generation.

Sound confusing? Well, maybe. But we're already faced with three "Editions" of Windows 2000: Windows 2000 Professional, Server, and Advanced Server. Soon there will be a fourth, known as Windows 2000 Data Center. All are currently 32-bit programs. Come this Fall, they will be joined by one or more 64-bit Editions, founding members of the Win64 generation.

When Windows Whistler is released, sometime next year, it will replace all editions of Windows 2000. In other words, it will appear in both 32-bit and 64- bit versions, extending both generations. Not quite its own grandpa, like Windows 2000, Windows Whistler will be a father, and his son. And we haven't even talked about Windows Blackcomb ...

Scrolling Countdown Timer

If you think the Windows family tree is becoming a bit gnarled, you're right. But wait until you see the latest branches of the microprocessor family. The new Itanium chip from Intel is just the newest member of the 64-bit hardware generation. We'll have more to say about that soon. But first, I want to tell you about my latest Power Tool!

I've been amazed at the popularity of our Countdown Timer II. Several of you have written to say how much you appreciate it, and how hard you make it work. Some readers use it to track as many as 20 or more events per day.

In theory, the Countdown Timer has no trouble remembering this many events. If asked, it will track time's progress towards thousands of future events, and remind you when each event's time has come. But there's a little problem when using the Countdown Timer to track so many events. It tries to display each upcoming event in its main window, expanding or shrinking the window as necessary.

When the number of events grows much beyond a dozen, the program's main window got a little large. To large, in some cases, to fit on a screen. To fix that problem, the latest version of Countdown Timer II lets you control the size of its main window. To resize the window, just click and drag one of the window's edges. If you make the window too small to display all upcoming events, a new scrollbar suddenly appears, letting you scroll through your list of events. Now, even when tracking hundreds of events, the Countdown Timer II's window can be made very small.

If you'd like to download your free copy of this new version, just visit https://www.karenware.com/powertools/ptcount2"y Web site. While there, the programmers among us might want to check out the program's free Visual Basic source code. The routine that handles scrolling controls such as text boxes is pretty interesting, at least to those of us with propellers on our beanies.

I'll have more to say about the new Countdown Timer, 64-bit CPUs, and even Windows Blackcomb soon. But for now I've got to go. As always, if you see me on the 'net this week be sure to wave and say Hi! And if you see Rick, give him a pat on the back too.

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