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Q: What is Windows "Longhorn"?

A: "Longhorn" is the codename for a major wave of technology and platform software from Microsoft. This generation of software will include new versions of Windows, Windows Server, .NET, MSN, Microsoft Office, and other products.

Windows "Longhorn" is the next major desktop Windows release, which will follow Windows XP; there is also a minor Windows Server revision that will ship in the Longhorn wave. Originally expected to be a fairly minor upgrade, Windows Longhorn will now include a number of new features including a revised task-based (or "iterative") user interface, an extensible, dock-like, Sidebar, and a SQL Server 2003-based storage engine called WinFS (Windows Future Storage). Microsoft said that Longhorn would be a desktop-only release in November, 2002, when the company told me that, "Customer requirements dictate our release strategies and timing for Windows products. Customers have asked that we map our server releases more closely to how they can consume and implement advances and innovations we deliver. Given the deployment cycles and budgeting that customers work through, and given the significant customer interest in our upcoming release of Windows Server 2003, we have determined that another major release of Windows Server in the Longhorn client timeframe does not meet the needs of most of our customers." However, those plans were up in the air until mid-2003, when the company revealed, finally, that it would indeed ship a Longhorn Server product as well.

Q: Will there be different Windows Longhorn versions?

A: Yes. Like Windows XP, Windows Longhorn will ship in different editions, though they might change from today's Home, Professional, Tablet PC, Media Center, 64-Bit Professional (Itanium), Professional Edition x64, and Embedded Editions. For example, I'm expecting the capabilities of today's XP Media Center Edition to be incorporate into Home Edition or, perhaps, a high-end version for home that might be called Premium Edition.

Q: So what will be new and different in Windows Longhorn?

A: Here's what we know about Longhorn at this early stage:

  • Longhorn will feature a task-based (or "iterative") interface that goes far beyond the task-based interface found today in Windows XP. Microsoft has been working to move beyond the dated desktop metaphor still used by most desktop operating systems; I explain some of Microsoft's early work on task-based interfaces in my old Activity Centers preview. This new user interface, or "user experience," is code-named "Aero" and is based on a new .NET-based graphics API called "Avalon," which replaces earlier graphics APIs such as GDI and GDI+, the latter of which debuted in Windows XP.
  • Longhorn will require 3D video hardware to render special effects that will make the screen more photorealistic and deep. This doesn't mean that the basic windows and mouse interface is being replaced, just that it will look a lot better. For more information, check out my exhaustive Road to Longhorn, Part Two showcase and my PDC 2003 coverage.
  • Longhorn will optionally include the Palladium security technology Microsoft is developing with Intel and AMD (see the next question for details).
  • Longhorn will include new anti-virus (AV) APIs that will help developers more easily integrate their wares into the base OS. Microsoft will also offer Longhorn customers a subscription-based AV feature that use AutoUpdate to keep your system up-to-date with new virus signatures.
  • Longhorn will include integrated recordable DVD capabilities and will work with every type of recordable DVD format. Digital media enthusiasts will be able to copy video from a digital camcorder directly to recordable DVD, bypassing the system's hard drive entirely, if desired.
  • Longhorn will include an advanced version of the successful Error Reporting Tool (ERT) that shipped in Windows XP; the goal is that only a small number of customers should have to report a bug to Microsoft before the company fixes it and ships the fix electronically and automatically to users.
  • Longhorn will include a new Setup routine that installs the OS in about 15 minutes.
  • Longhorn will feature hundreds of new APIs that will let provide access to the new system's features. The Win32 API from previous Windows versions is being replaced by a new .NET-based API called WinFX, for example. It will also feature a new communications and collaboration subsystem, dubbed Indigo.

One thing that has changed is that the initial release of Longhorn will no longer include the Windows Future Storage (WinFS) relational database-based storage engine as originally planned. Instead, Microsoft will deliver WinFS as a free out-of-band upgrade for Longhorn users a year after Longhorn ships.

Q: I keep hearing that WinFS is a new file system. Is Microsoft abandoning NTFS?

A: No. WinFS is implemented as an add-on to NTFS and is not a completely new file system. Rather, it is a new storage engine built on the NTFS file system.

Q: So what's the point?

A: Microsoft is trying to make it easier for you to find your data on our ever-increasing hard drives. By adding relational database capabilities to the file system, it will take less time to find documents, email, and other data. After all, as one Microsoft executive asked me recently, "Why can we find anything we want on the Internet in seconds, but it takes so long to find our own data on our own PCs?" In addition to the underlying WinFS technology, Microsoft is also adding a new file system concept called Libraries, which will organize like collections of data in Longhorn, regardless of where they are physically stored in the system. For example, a Photos & Movies Library would collect links to every digital photo and digital video on your system.

"I should not care about location when I save," says Microsoft VP Chris Jones. "Why can't I just click on my computer and it shows me my documents? It is a computer. It should know what a document is, what I have edited and annotated, what I have searched for before, and what other places I have looked for documents. It is not just documents on my computer I am looking for. It is documents I care about."







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