Sneak Peek: Windows XP's Successor
The next major release of Windows won't be ready for a couple of years, but it's already taking shape. We checked out a leaked pre-beta version of the successor to Windows XP, code-named Longhorn, that we found on the Internet.
Though Microsoft declined to comment for this story, company bigwigs
Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer have given some broad hints about Longhorn. In
numerous speeches and published reports, they've promised a totally revamped OS
built on a new file system that gives users a single route to data, regardless
of how that data is created or where on a PC or network it's stored (see
The new file system wasn't implemented in the alpha code we looked at. But Longhorn Build 3683 does contain a few intriguing interface tweaks--mostly still under construction--that indicate where Microsoft is heading.
Most interesting is a completely new desktop element called Sidebar that lets you place commonly used items, including the taskbar, recently launched applications, and a clock, into a vertical, transparent window on either the right or left side of the screen.
One of Sidebar's optional elements, or "tiles," lets you switch between multiple virtual desktops--a standard feature of the graphical interfaces that ship with Linux, but hitherto available for Windows only in a few third-party graphics drivers and utilities. Using Sidebar's Desktop Manager tile, you can drag running applications from one virtual desktop to another, allowing you to use multiple programs simultaneously with less on-screen clutter.
A new theme, called Plex, offers a more rounded window style, while a revamped, as-yet-nonfunctional Display Settings dialog box looks like something right out of Apple's OS X Aqua interface.
But it's unclear how these changes will help you find programs, e-mail, or Web data more easily, or how they'll hook into the new file system.
Also unclear is when we'll see Longhorn--and whether we'll see something else first. Last July, Gates said the OS would follow a new version of SQL Server, due in 2004, that will incorporate the file system intended for Longhorn.
Gartner analyst Michael Silver says that even if Microsoft slates Longhorn for the second half of 2004, its delivery could well slip into 2005. That would be nearly four years after Windows XP's debut--a veritable Saharan wasteland of lost revenues for a company that typically produces a new desktop OS every two years. With Linux and Apple's OS X both continuing to improve, analysts say that Microsoft could issue something smaller--say, a Windows XP Second Edition--before it herds the big one to market.
Microsoft has a history of creating interim OS releases that incorporate elements ready to roll from a development project, as well as bundled application updates and support for new hardware. The question is, would a pre-Longhorn Windows be a winner like Windows 98 SE, or a dud like Windows Me?