Microsoft: Longhorn Is Still Compelling - InformationWeek

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Microsoft: Longhorn Is Still Compelling

Safety, security, and search improvements could make next-gen system worth the wait

Longhorn, Microsoft's highly touted, long-awaited, next-generation operating system, will be the most-secure Windows operating system ever. It will be easier to use and manage, both at home and work, and will cost less to operate. Longhorn will sport impressive advances in how files are managed, organized, and displayed. All that, and Microsoft's next-gen system won't be delayed--it's on schedule to ship in the second half of 2006.

Promises, promises. Now it's up to Microsoft's development team to deliver on those obligations, made last week by Jim Allchin, the group VP who oversees development of Windows clients, servers, and development tools. Allchin gave an update on Longhorn to address growing questions about what features will make it into the operating system and why customers should plan for it.

In August, Microsoft dropped one of Longhorn's most-anticipated features, the WinFS file system, and said it would retrofit two other Longhorn advances--Indigo communications services and the Avalon graphics system--to work within Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. In doing so, the company diminished Longhorn's gee-whiz factor, something it now needs to fix. "The question is how Longhorn can add value to this space and take it to the next level," Allchin says.

The answer: Longhorn will come with "unrivaled security and safety," while being packed with new features. Even without WinFS, Longhorn will let users stack, rearrange, filter, and create lists of PC files, including multimedia files and RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds. Improvements in data visualization will go beyond today's search capabilities, Allchin says.

One new capability will be "auxiliary displays" that let a mobile user view, say, her calendar even when a laptop is turned off. Also, Longhorn will support the IPv6 protocol, making "pure IPv6" networks possible.

But Joe Wilcox, senior analyst at Jupiter Research, isn't impressed with Microsoft's early efforts at promoting Longhorn. "This is stuff you've heard from Microsoft before," he says. "Where's the new stuff?"

Windows' Next Steps
Despite its long lead time, Longhorn will be packed with compelling new features, Microsoft group VP Jim Allchin says
FILE SYSTEM Users will be able to stack, rearrange, filter, and create lists of PC files, including multimedia files and RSS feeds
DATA ACCESS Improvements in data visualization will enhance search capabilities
MOBILITY "Auxiliary displays" will let users view certain elements, such as a calendar, even when the machine is turned off
PROTOCOL SUPPORT Support for the IPv6 protocol will make it possible to create "pure IPv6" networks
DATA: Microsoft
Allchin is optimistic his team can hit its delivery deadline because Windows programmers have begun to develop software as "components," part of the company's broader initiative to develop more-secure software. Testing that used to take 18 hours can be done now in less than an hour using new automation tools and processes. The result is that Microsoft will be more likely to hit its deadlines than in the past, Allchin says.

The plan is to get the Longhorn client into the sales channel in time for the 2006 holiday shopping season. "Corporations will have it before then," Allchin says. The schedule calls for some Longhorn code to be released to hardware partners at next week's WinHEC conference, followed by a test release this summer. Longhorn server is slated to ship in 2007, though Allchin says it's possible it "may ship sooner."

Before that, Microsoft plans to deliver 64-bit versions of Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. The company hasn't disclosed availability of those upgrades--that formality is being saved for WinHEC--but their arrival is imminent. The 64-bit operating systems will make it possible to run more data in a computer's physical memory, resulting in better performance for applications that need the help. "The whole system will be a thousand times faster," Allchin says.

Sixty-four-bit Windows has been tuned for hybrid 32-bit/64-bit processors from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and Intel. Allchin expects PCs and servers based on the chips to become the norm in the next two years. By then, if everything goes as planned, Longhorn will be here, too.

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