The Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, WinHEC 2007, going on this week in Los Angeles, marks the first birthday of Microsoft's Windows Rally technology. Rally is a package of software technologies built into Vista that make it supremely easy to set up a wireless network and add devices to it. That may thrill you, or it may not. I've struggled to get wireless networking going in enough situations that it thrilled me, I can tell you.Rally was introduced a year ago at WinHEC, with a demo during the keynote addresses. It was demoed again this year, and Tuesday morning's demo wasn't substantially different. It showed off features in Windows Vista that take a lot of the pain out of setting up a network: Plug in your router, type in a PIN number you find on the box, enter a name for the network and an access code and you're done.
Adding a device is equally simple. Plug in your device and Vista discovers it automatically and adds it to the Network Map in Settings. Enter its PIN and Vista automatically transfers all the configuration data the device needs to function on your network. This year the demo added the installation of a wireless network-attached storage device and the installation of Media Center "extenders" -- devices that join your wireless network to stream media to your TV or sound system.
Rally has come farther than that description might indicate. Last year, of course, the demo was theoretical: Vista wasn't out yet. This year there are "Certified for Vista" routers with support for Rally built in, and reference implementations of devices, in not many actual shipping products, that can take advantage of Vista's Link Layer Topology Discovery (LLTD) and Plug and Play Extensions (PnP-X) for network devices.
Jim Barber, who worked the Rally demo in the keynote session, gave a session immediately after that discussed the technologies in more detail. Later on in the day I found him and asked about Rally's history.
It grew out of Windows Connect Now, he said. "WCN 1.0 was part of Windows XP Service Pack 2. Window Wireless Networking included a setup wizard that used a USB key to transfer wireless setup data to devices with USB ports. The next step, obviously, was to develop it for devices that you couldn't put a USB key into. As we got into WCN 2.0 we found there were several things to do, like automatic discovery of devices on the network.
There are now 20 devices with Vista logo stickers from original-device manufacturers, according to Barber, which will translate to several times that number of devices as branded versions spread into the marketplace.
Rally is one of the good-news stories about Vista. Just as plug-and-play for USB devices has made us all forget the excruciating pain of trying to get hardware to work before Plug and Play features debuted in Windows 95, Rally will very quickly obviate the need to understand the different types of wireless encryption, or remember your WEP key. Barber expects things to be very different by Rally's second birthday: "We have the right connections with partners, development kits are available. This year it's really ready to take off."