The new operating system, still a couple of years away, will change the way developers write business applications.
For anyone who develops software for Windows PCs--and that includes nearly everyone who manages business applications--next week will be an important one. Microsoft will take the wraps off the first publicly available code for its next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn. It's due in 2006, if all goes according to plan. Billed as the biggest release of Microsoft's flagship product since Windows 95 nearly a decade ago, Longhorn will include technology for building a new generation of "smart client" software that combines the look and feel of PC apps like Word or Excel with immediate access to information off the Web.
"Instead of this disconnected state between your applications, you're counting on connectivity," says Don Cosseboom, director of R&D at Molecular Inc., a developer of business software. Though Longhorn apps won't debut for at least another three years, Microsoft at its Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles next week will disclose the first technical information developers need to know about writing to a new set of technologies that could radically change how Windows PCs find, organize, present, and share information across networks.
"It's going to get us away from C-drive computing," says Michael Saucier, VP of marketing at OSIsoft Inc., who's seen early versions of Longhorn. OSIsoft makes software for analyzing the performance of factory equipment, pulling data from machinery and control systems and letting users analyze it visually.
How important are this week's disclosures to OSIsoft? The company plans to start prototyping new products based on Longhorn technology "the day after the conference," when Microsoft releases an early test version of Longhorn and a software development kit for it, Saucier says. Longhorn's new API could enable smart-client apps that work in both Windows and Web environments, letting users view and edit data locally, taking advantage of a PC's surfeit of processing, memory, and storage capacity--then synchronizing with servers when connected to the Internet. Adds Saucier: "I expect to build apps that are as smart as Outlook," Microsoft's E-mail program that automatically sniffs out network connections.
Longhorn also is supposed to address many of the problems that plague PC users, including viruses and worms, and help them deal with the difficulty of searching across an array of files, E-mails, Web pages, and photos strewn across ever-larger hard drives. It also may change the look and feel of computers, taking advantage of new video and 3-D capabilities of chips and graphics hardware with a new user-interface.
Microsoft plans Longhorn versions of Office, its development tools, server enhancements, and even a version of MSN designed to take advantage of the new technology. "Virtually everything we're doing from a product standpoint will accrue to the Longhorn wave," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer wrote in a memo to employees this summer.
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