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Big Ideas on the Longhorn Trail

Windows Longhorn is becoming less a code-name for an operating system than it is a code-name for a family of major technology projects that are becoming less and less coupled to the next version of Windows.

Below are some of the technologies that were major elements of Longhorn at one time. Some still are, but will be delivered separately for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. Others are out of Longhorn, but may appear around the same time.

Avalon -- The presentation subsystem in Longhorn. Microsoft bills Avalon as providing a foundation for building applications and high-fidelity experiences in Longhorn that will blend the application, the user interface, documents and media content. Another benefit, the new presentation subsystem is supposed to exploit the full power of computers shipping in 2006. Some of Microsoft's most extensive work is in making it easier for developers to create 3-D effects without much coding. One of the most mature areas of Longhorn development, this is also an area that is not exclusive to Longhorn. Microsoft will port Avalon to Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. The Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 version is expected to be available for download about the time that Longhorn comes out.

Indigo -- The communications subsystem in Longhorn. Indigo is supposed to serve as a set of technologies built around the Web services architecture for building and running connected systems, Microsoft's terms for the pairing of clients and the server-based services the clients consume. The Indigo communications infrastructure is intended to provide secure, reliable and transacted messaging. Outside observers say Indigo supplies a necessary layer that has been missing from Microsoft's previous Web services development solutions. Like Avalon, Indigo will be integrated into Longhorn and will be available for download on Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.

WinFX -- The set of developer APIs that bring a managed code approach to Windows developers. The WinFX development model is a phased-in replacement for the aging Win32 development model. By running code through the .NET Common Language Runtime, WinFX-based apps will let Microsoft's technologies handle a lot of the mundane duties like garbage collection that programmers had to write manually in the Win32 world. Last year, Gartner analyst Mark Driver called WinFX the biggest change to Microsoft's programmer interfaces since the introduction of Win32 with Windows 95 and Windows NT 3.1. At that time, WinFX also included interfaces for WinFS. One of Gartner's and others' knocks on WinFX was that backward compatibility would be a problem and uptake would be slow. That problem is solved by Microsoft's decision to release WinFX for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.

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WinFS -- The storage subsystem originally planned for Longhorn. Now the technology is slated for a beta release around the time that Longhorn is supposed to ship in 2006. Bob Muglia, senior vice president of the Windows Server Division, described WinFS as combining the NTFS file system, SQL Server relational querying and XML data labelling. In the end, the storage format was supposed to become independent of the application.

Aero -- The overarching term for a new Windows user experience to originate with Longhorn. As of the technical previews, Aero is little more than a set of guidelines, recommendations and "user experience values" that Microsoft hopes developers will adhere to. Specific guidance comes with more heavily integrated Help functionality and recommendations and best practice advice for building wizards and presenting end users with choices. Microsoft's own application of its Aero principles along with the Avalon presentation subsystem to create a new UI for Windows in Longhorn, is one of the most hotly anticipated aspects of the operating system.

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NGSCB (ing-SCUB) -- Next Generation Secure Computing Base, code-named "Palladium." One of the earliest pieces of Longhorn to be made public, NGSCB also ranks as the most controversial. Tight integration between the operating system and advanced new hardware would allow Microsoft to tie the software to specific hardware and take the next step in preventing execution of buffer overruns and in positively verifying identity. Concerns over privacy and disputes between users and content industry groups like the RIAA about how content should be licensed or used, however, make NGSCB's implementation much more than a technology question. While the company has been quiet about NGSCB for some time, company officials revealed at the Intel Developers Forum last month that some components are still planned for shipment with Longhorn.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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