Microsoft unveiled early bits of Longhorn at its Professional Developer Conference (PDC) and provided more extensive details around the key components of its next Windows operating system expected out in 2006.
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Although Microsoft repeated that it would release a server version of Longhorn, the company would only discuss the client operating system. It is early days for the Longhorn client and way too early for the Longhorn server, Microsoft officials admitted.
Longhorn is build up of three components on top of a layer of "fundamentals" which include security and technology to make sure there is no conflict between applications and drivers. On top of those fundamentals sit Avalon, WinFS and Indigo, the codenames which, with the Longhorn name itself, have fed the rumour mills.
Avalon is the presentation subsystem of Longhorn, WinFS is the unified storage system built on top of Windows' existing file system NTFS, and Indigo combines all Windows communication technologies.
Microsoft officials provided lengthy and deeply technical explanations of the technology behind the codenames. To be brief, Longhorn promises to give users a secure operating system with a new way to store files, revamped graphics and tight links to the web.
For software developers, the operating system, though bringing a myriad of changes, should be easier to develop for and it will also run existing applications, dating all the way back to the days of DOS.
Other than security and conflict prevention, the Longhorn fundamentals will also offer technology called SuperFetch, which helps start an application faster, ClickOnce, which makes it easy to install applications on a single PC or across a network, as well as technology that simplifies migration from one machine to another.
Avalon, the Longhorn presentation system, had been little talked about until the PDC. With Avalon, Microsoft is leaving the bitmap behind it and is moving to vector-based graphics and a single graphics system. This promises better graphics and performance, said Darryn Dieken, group program manager for Windows client.
Details on WinFS, the unified storage system for Longhorn, had leaked before PDC. However, some confusion about the technology Gates referred to as a "Holy Grail" was cleared up Tuesday. It is not a new file system, but the acronym nevertheless stands for Windows File System and not Windows Future Storage.
"We built WinFS on top of NTFS," said Gordon Mangione, corporate vice president for SQL Server at Microsoft. "We have 15 years' investment in building streams on NTFS ...There's no way we're going to throw all that out and start over again."
WinFS uses the relational engine technology that Microsoft also uses in Yukon, the next version of its SQL Server database due next year. The storage system promises to make it easier for users to find documents and e-mail messages, for example, by tagging those with XML (Extensible Markup Language) metadata.
WinFS data will no longer reside in specific folders on a hard disc drive. The "My Documents" icon on the desktop no longer opens a specific folder on the hard disc drive, but displays documents located anywhere on the system tagged with XML data. Certain data, such as the e-mail address book, will reside at the platform level, instead of at the application level, making it accessible from multiple applications.
Existing Windows applications will work with systems running Longhorn. However, companies will have to recode their applications if they want to take full advantage of WinFS and other Longhorn features, Microsoft officials said. Microsoft itself is planning a wave of new product releases in the Longhorn timeframe, including a new Office release.
Indigo has grown at PDC, and it now stands for basically all of Windows' communications technologies, including peer-to-peer, instant messaging and Web services support,.
While Windows users will experience Avalon and WinFS first hand when Longhorn comes out, Indigo sits behind the scenes and is more interesting for developers of Windows applications.
Microsoft has not given a release date for Longhorn, but insiders expect the software to be out in 2006. A first beta of the product is planned for the third quarter of next year.
Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service