PDC - Microsoft to lift lid on Longhorn OS

Microsoft will share more details on the next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn, at its Professional Developers Conference (PDC) next month. However, the company will probably keep the new user interface, dubbed Aero, under wraps.

Aero may make a cameo appearance in Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates' opening keynote, but is not finished yet and likely won't be included in the pre-beta release of Longhorn that will be handed out to PDC attendees, according to sources familiar with Microsoft's PDC plans.

Aero is also not on the calendar of sessions at the show.

Perhaps more important to developers is that Microsoft will give PDC attendees the scoop on Avalon, the little talked about engine underlying the Longhorn user interface.

Microsoft has described the technology as "a brand new client platform for building smart, connected, media rich applications in Longhorn". Developers at the show will be told how to take advantage of Avalon in their applications.

Thanks to Avalon, Longhorn will support new styles of user interfaces and user interface elements. Developers will be able to create Windows client applications that use the type of navigation features found on the Web to browse through information, according to the PDC session calendar.

Another key topic at PDC will be Windows Future Storage (WinFS), a service that sits on top of the existing Windows file system and is meant to make it simpler and more intuitive for users to find files on computers running Longhorn.

WinFS uses technology from the "Yukon" release of Microsoft's SQL Server database, which is expected to ship late next year.

Microsoft's PDC documentation describes WinFS as an "entirely new user experience and model around the storage of user's data."

For example, Outlook address book data today is restricted to that email client. With WinFS, that data could be made available to all applications on a PC. However, applications will have to be rewritten to take advantage of such capabilities. Microsoft plans to release a slew of application upgrades at around the time Longhorn is released.

Jupiter Research senior analyst, Joe Wilcox, saw WinFS as the PDC headliner because of the impact a new storage system was likely to have on developers and businesses.

"Microsoft at PDC needs to show some significant development progress on the new file system coming for Yukon and Longhorn," Wilcox said. "Developers and businesses will need some time to prepare new applications and possibly retrofit old ones to support the new file system."

A lot of work remains to be done on WinFS. It works, and developers can start developing applications for it, but it is slow, fragile and many features are missing, a source familiar with the development said.

Microsoft is working hard to finish the PDC version of Longhorn.

The goal is to meet "zero bug bounce", a stage where development catches up to testing and there are no active bugs, at least for the moment.

The operating system will be "about half done" when the PDC rolls around, the source said.

A Longhorn beta is planned for 2004.

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