Sneak a Peek at the Next Windows

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LOS ANGELES--Bill Gates has offered the first public peek at Microsoft's next Windows, calling the multimedia-heavy update "the biggest release of this decade, the biggest since Windows 95."

Longhorn preview

Speaking Monday to thousands of developers at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference here, Gates offered a dazzling array of eye-catching demos.

Code-named Longhorn, the OS is scheduled to enter beta-testing in the second half of 2004 but isn't expected to be released until 2006. It will feature flashy graphics that integrate all types of media; a brand-new file system with sophisticated database features; and features that Microsoft says will ensure easy, seamless communication between devices and applications.

More Secure

Gates also announced plans for a second Windows XP service pack, which will address the security concerns that have plagued the OS. Microsoft plans to ship Windows XP SP2 in early 2004, with a beta version expected by year's end. Among other things, the service pack will turn on Windows' firewall by default, he said.

The OS road map unveiled here also indicates that the release of Windows XP 64-bit edition for Advanced Micro Devices' new 64-bit Athlons has been delayed until the second half of 2004.

Gates noted that Microsoft's research and development budget now stands at $6.8 billion--double what it was four years ago. He said he believes the next wave of Microsoft software will take computing to "a whole new level."

"There's no notion that we've reached any limit. We believe that this is the decade where digital devices will be a part of our lives and the economy in a very deep fashion," Gates said. "The increase in productivity will be even stronger in this decade than it was in the last."

Back to Basics

Gates and Jim Allchin, vice president for the Windows Platform Group, say Longhorn will be based on improved fundamentals, including security.

"We, together, have to nail the security infrastructure so people can trust these systems," Allchin told the developers. Microsoft is also working to improve such fundamentals as driver and application reliability and performance, he added.

Ease of deployment is also a goal. Longhorn will permit one-click installation of applications--without rebooting, Allchin said. "I'm on a campaign to get rid of reboots, not only in our code but in your code," he said.

On top of the fundamentals, Longhorn features three major innovations. It sports an XML-based visual presentation system, code-named Avalon; a new file system, dubbed WinFS; and new technology for communications between applications and devices, code-named Indigo.

Getting Graphic

Avalon will take much more advantage of underused graphics processing power on modern PCs, according to Microsoft representatives. Avalon graphics include some elements reminiscent of Mac OS X, including transparent windows.

Longhorn will also be able to seamlessly render video as part of an otherwise static Window. Avalon will help obliterate the distinction between desktop and Web-based apps, Allchin said. An engineer from showed off a Web page as it might appear on Longhorn, complete with video of a new DVD and the capability to display merchandise in windows set up to revolve carousel-style.

The Longhorn desktop also will include a "sidebar" where users can aggregate information notification services such as a buddy list or even an RSS feed.

Smarter File System

The WinFS file system will use XML and database technology to define files of all kinds by multiple attributes or metadata. This will support fast and sophisticated searches across multiple data types in scattered locations, Microsoft presenters said. Information that previously was available only at the application level will now be available on the OS level, giving users greater access to information that previously was segregated by file type.

In a demo of the system's versatility, a Microsoft engineer searched 1100 items for the word Longhorn. By the time he was finished typing, the results were winnowed down to 30. The search encompassed not only text documents, but also e-mail and faxes. While Longhorn will ship with a basic schema to define metadata, developers will be able to customize the schema, according to Microsoft.

Indigo technology is intended to make it easier for applications to communicate across the Internet. An engineer from pharmaceutical giant Merck showed off an application that would let physicians remotely monitor patients participating in clinical trials--and be alerted if a patient's data fell outside certain parameters.

Allchin cautioned developers not to expect too much from the early code Microsoft is distributing here. "Performance is not good," he said, suggesting that the code be installed only on high-performance, nonproduction machines.

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