RealTime IT News

Putting Together the Longhorn Puzzle

Microsoft shared more details about its plans for Longhorn, the next generation of Windows, and shed a bit more light on the product roadmap this week.

The revelations came during a keynote by Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, held in Redmond.

Although the conference is for OEM partners, Gates and Jim Allchin, head of the Windows division, showcased plans for Longhorn, which, with its 64-bit processing support, new file-management system and 3-D graphics, could give a push to new hardware sales.

Attendees at the conference received the latest alpha build, so that developers could get started building drivers, something both Gates and Allchin emphasized as partners' most pressing task.

Allchin said the Longhorn development teams had changed strategies from a year ago. Now, the client and server are being built in synch. He said the goal is to integrate Longhorn's three "magic ingredients:" Win FS, the storage system; Indigo, the messaging infrastructure based on Web services; and Avalon, the graphics capabilities.

In order to include all the functionality Microsoft wants, it has added Super Fetch to improve performance. Allchin described it as "a very smart, new virtual memory capability where we know, predictively, what is going to be needed, and we've got them in memory." He promised that would have a managed GPU and "glitch-free scheduling."

Allchin spoke at length about Win FS, the new file-sharing system for Longhorn. He said that the explosion of different file types, from photos to e-mail to replication and directories, makes setting up a filing system difficult for users. Win FS is designed to hide the complexity.

"Think about it as a file system, but with the ability for rich properties and rich relationship between the items that are stored in the system," he said.

"What we need to do is take these volume-level things and make them so that the user doesn't have to think about it," he said. The file system will have enough database-like capabilities that all the applications work at the file-system level. "And that's a key breakthrough in Longhorn," he added.

Gated promised a "pretty fully capable" build of Win FS for developers in 2004.

Microsoft is tying Longhorn to 64-bit computing, which Gates said would be ubiquitous by 2006. In his opening keynote, Gates announced Windows XP Edition for 64-bit Extended Systems, designed for home and business users. The 64-bit system also will be capable of running the 32-bit operating system.

"Between now and the end of 2005, we'll go from having very few 64-bit chips out there to virtually 100 percent of what AMD ships," Gates said, with the majority of Intel shipments moving to 64-bit by 2007.

Windows XP 64-Bit Edition is scheduled for released in the fourth quarter of 2004, along with a Driver Development Kit and enhancements including support for Visual Studio .NET 2003 (a.k.a. Whidbey) and the Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1.

Avalon, the media presentation support component of Longhorn, will support 3-D graphics and on 64-bit systems, they'll be richer and faster than today's top PC games, the company said. Microsoft believes 3-D has potential far beyond PC gaming. The company demonstrated a three-dimensional, real-time model of water flowing through a turbine. The simulation let the user "dive into" the water and analyze the velocity of the flow.

"This technique allows scientists and engineers to literally step inside their products, and interactively optimize it for performance," said Uwe Wossner, a researcher at the University of Stuttgart.

Microsoft believes that such new capabilities will push science and business to upgrade to 64-bit PCs.

Allchin said Windows XP Service Pack 2 will provide a safer browsing environment with a pop-up blocker and smarter firewall. Users will have to approve all downloads, and the software will block .exe files; it will also end the ability of .exe files to auto-run when a file is unzipped.

"But we didn't take away the ability for you to ship around .exes in .zips," he said. "It's just a special way that you have to say, yes, I really, really do want to execute this code, so that the accidental exposure will drop." Allchin also promised a whole new set of capabilities in XP Service Pack 2, including wireless security and Bluetooth.

He said the new Media Player will ship later this year, along with a new access to music from MSN, the Portable Media Center and Media Extender with built-in DRM. Microsoft has not announced a ship date for Service Pack 2, saying it will ship when it's ready. Microsoft is working on Service Pack 1 for Windows Server 2003; Allchin said an update would come out in 2005.