Demos impress, but wait for Longhorn continues

Programmers expressed keen interest in many of the code-named technologies that Microsoft Corp. demonstrated last week at its Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles.

But the enthusiasm that many shared about the Avalon graphics subsystem, the Indigo communication technologies for building advanced Web services, and the WinFS storage model was tempered by the realization that it will be some time before they see the Windows operating system, code-named Longhorn, that will feature them.

"It's interesting, but I think it's going to be a long way out," said Christopher McCarthy, a Chicago-based senior systems engineer at Bank of America Corp. "This is too far out for us to evaluate."

Microsoft handed out a developer preview version of Longhorn and pledged to make a beta version available in the second half of 2004. But company executives declined to provide details about when they expect Longhorn to be completed, even though at past events they had shown slides projecting that Longhorn technologies could start to ship in 2005.

Jim Mangione, a West Point, Pa.-based technical specialist at Merck & Co., said he anticipates that Indigo will help with integration in the company's heterogeneous environment, which includes Windows and .Net as well as Linux and Java. "I'm just hoping it's in a production-ready state soon," he said.

Jeremy Lehman, senior vice president and head of technology at Thomson Financial in New York, said his company foresees a major commercial opportunity with Indigo, even though it's currently just "slideware." He said his company partners with Microsoft and other vendors to provide information and technology to financial services customers, and he hopes next year to be able to demonstrate products that use Indigo for exchanging data via Web services.

Lehman said proprietary middleware systems tend to work only with companies' internal systems, whereas Web services can be used on an internal and external basis. He said he expects Indigo to help to ease integration, lower costs and reduce complexity. But Lehman is also cognizant of Indigo's immaturity, and he said he expects to have to wait for its successor to get rich functionality for transactions.

Roy Schulte, an analyst at Gartner Inc., explained that Indigo is a superset of Microsoft's Messaging Queuing (MS MQ) technology and its Component Object Model (COM), COM+, .Net remoting and Web services support. "Think of this as a simplification, a unification of communication middleware on behalf of Microsoft's plan," Schulte said.

Indigo will enable developers to more easily deliver secure, reliable and transacted messages by including the "tricky" security code and other plumbing code that nobody "would voluntarily likely want to do," said John Shewchuk, an architect on the Indigo team.

Microsoft currently delivers some of those capabilities through its Web Services Enhancement (WSE) tool kit, and about half of Indigo is WSE, according to Eric Rudder, Microsoft's senior vice president of servers and tools. But the Web services specifications on which WSE is based are still being finalized.

New graphics capabilities in Avalon appeal to John Robbins, a Bloomfield, Conn.-based systems architect at Cigna Corp. He said the new Extensible Application Markup Language's (XAML) ability to separate code from content will be helpful, because it will allow a graphics person to design the interface and then hand off the XAML file to a developer to create the code behind it. He also said XAML could be useful for working with third-party design tools.

The new WinFS storage system was most interesting to Luke Voss, a software engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. He said the lab currently uses a relational database to capture relationships between sets of data, but it makes more sense to unify the framework with the file system. The benefit will be universal data access and better searching capabilities, he said. "I don't think WinFS will be something that solves specific problems, but it will change the way we look at the problem," he said. "Data will be more important than files."

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