Microsoft Unwraps Longhorn - InformationWeek
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10/23/2003
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Microsoft Unwraps Longhorn

The new operating system, still a few years away, is expected to change the way developers write business apps

For anyone who develops software for Windows PCs--and that includes nearly everyone who manages business applications--Oct. 27 is a red-letter day. 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 applications such as Word or Excel with immediate access to information on the Web.

"Instead of this disconnected state between your applications, you're counting on connectivity," says Don Cosseboom, director of research and development 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 this 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 building prototypes of 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 applications 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 dog 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. Everything that gets written for Windows will be .Net code, which is supposed to help prevent developer errors that can lead to unsecure applications, according to Microsoft. New database technology in Windows could let users automatically poll the operating system for groups of files, E-mails, calendar entries, and other documents that match certain criteria, instead of relying on their memory to set up stacks of hierarchical folders.

Longhorn 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.

The company plans Longhorn versions of Office, its development tools, server enhancements, and even a version of the MSN portal designed to take advantage of the new technology. In a memo to employees this summer, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer wrote: "Virtually everything we're doing from a product standpoint will accrue to the Longhorn wave."

About two-thirds of Microsoft's $32.2 billion revenue last year was tied to the PC platform. Microsoft and PC makers are hopeful that by its release, Longhorn will spur a wave of new PC buying among consumers and businesses.

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