Microsoft Gears Up for Longhorn With Developers

While release of the next version of the Windows operating system,
codenamed Longhorn, is still at least two years away, developers are likely
to get the most thorough look yet at its new features near the end of the
month, as Microsoft begins to arm them with the tools they need to utilize
it.


“You can sum up what they’re going to be talking about in one big word:
Longhorn,” David Smith, an analyst with Gartner Group, told
internetnews.com. “It’s the monster release, the bet the company
release.”

Microsoft has promised code for Longhorn — as well as SQL Server “Yukon,”
Visual Studio “Whidbey,” and other technologies — to attendees of its
Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles on Oct. 26 through Oct.
30. The CD with the code has been described as a “pre-beta release.” The
release is part of an attempt by Microsoft, espoused earlier
this year
by Eric Rudder, senior vice president of Server and Tools at
Microsoft, to be more transparent in its roadmap. It also helps give
developers the knowledge they need to prepare applications for Longhorn
when it launches.

Just how far along development has come remains to be seen, as the
operating system is not slated for release until 2005, and some analysts believe 2006
is more likely. Microsoft has promised a “major architectural change” with
the Longhorn release. While the code shown at PDC should give developers a
good idea of the direction it is going, the release remains at least two
years away and subject to change.

Still, developers should have a chance to dig into a number of topics,
including WinFS (short for Windows Future Storage), which may either be a
new file system or a resource manager for the existing NTFS file system,
the ‘Whidbey’ release of the Visual Studio .NET development environment,
the ‘Avalon’ graphics engine, and the ‘Indigo’ Web services framework. Some
details may also be forthcoming on NGSCB (short for Next Generation Secure
Computing Base), a new strategy by Microsoft, formerly known as Palladium,
which is intended to integrate security features, DRM features and hardware
into a single security package.


Microsoft is likely to spend the most time underscoring integration and the
next-generation file system, WinFS, Joe Wilcox, an analyst with Jupiter
Research (which is owned by the same company as this Web site) told
internetnews.com.

“I think the two most important things that will come out of the show is
the tighter integration between the developer tools and next-generation
products, and the new file system,” Wilcox said.

The WinFS file system, developed for and expected to debut with the next
version of SQL Server (codenamed Yukon), is slated to first see light when
Yukon ships in the second half of 2004. In Longhorn, WinFS is intended to
be the first time server technology will manage data on a home PC through a
relational database, making it context dependent. By doing so, WinFS should
dramatically cut the length of search times while also offering new
searching and navigational features.


That, Wilcox said, means it is likely that Microsoft, and Bill Gates during
his keynote at the show, will spend some time discussing metadata — and
possibly an attempt to establish some type of new standardization for
metadata.

Metadata will allow the new Windows to improve its search
capabilities by offering the ability to search for things beyond just a
file name. A particular audio file may have metadata that includes artist,
album, composer, label, etc.


“Search is a big deal for Microsoft right now,” Wilcox said. “There is a
recognition that the kind of information people are accessing today is
different than it was in the past.”

The question remains whether WinFS is actually a new file system, or just
something that runs on top of Windows’ existing NTFS file system. Early
builds of the operating system that have leaked to the Net showed WinFS
operating on top of NTFS, but Wilcox noted that those early builds may just
have been part of the testing process. If WinFS is running on top of NTFS,
then it should be easier for developers to prepare existing applications
for Longhorn. If not, developers will need lead time to prepare their
applications for the new architecture.

“The sooner Microsoft can get that file system out there for testing, the
better,” Wilcox said. “If there really is a new file system, not just SQL
Server running on top of NTFS, we’re talking about a major architectural
change. The developers will need lots of time to prepare for that, and the
customers as well.”

Gartner’s Smith, however, was not so sure.

“My understanding is that the whole goal of the file system project is to
make it not really relevant as to what’s underneath,” Smith said, noting
that he views WinFS as a sort of ‘virtual’ concept. “It’s a universal
storage model where the underlying technology is less important.”

In other words, the point is to knock down the walls that separate data in
a Windows environment. For instance, Outlook Calendar data would no longer
be restricted to Outlook, but could be utilized by other applications, so
long as they are designed to work with WinFS.

But both Smith and Wilcox agreed that developer tools will remain one of
the most important parts of the show. The Tools & Languages track at the
conference will focus on Whidbey, codename for the next version of Visual
Studio .NET that is slated to appear in 2004 along with Yukon (in fact, it
has been referred to as Visual Studio for Yukon). A number of sessions in
the Architecture & Infrastructure, Mobile PC & Devices, Data Systems and
Web Services tracks also focus on Whidbey.

Talking up Whidbey at the VSLive!
Conference
in New York earlier this year, Rudder told developers that
the aim of Whidbey is to set a new standard for developer productivity,
while providing enterprise-grade scalability and performance.


Aside from deeper Web services support and enhancements to the Visual C#,
Visual C++, Visual J# and Visual Basic languages, a primary push with
Whidbey is integration with Yukon in order to provide more robust tools for
database programming.

“The conference may showcase a tighter business strategy and technological
integration between Microsoft’s developer tools and major forthcoming
products like Yukon and Longhorn,” Wilcox said.

Another major push with Longhorn is to provide a totally new graphical
experience, with support for much higher screen resolutions, and 3D.

“One of the big things about Longhorn is the new user interface,” Smith
said. “It has a 3D look and feel, higher fidelity and better graphical
experience. I would be surprised if we weren’t going to hear quite a bit
about that.”

The technology is actually separated into ‘Aero,’ the new user interface
for Longhorn, and ‘Avalon,’ which is the graphics engine for the operating
system. The early bet among analysts and other Microsoft watchers is that
developers won’t see much of Aero, though Microsoft Chairman and Chief
Software Architect Bill Gates may offer a sneak preview during his keynote.

“From my perspective, it doesn’t matter whether or not we see it,” Wilcox
said. “Microsoft is, at best case scenario, two years from releasing this
OS, and probably more than that. The interface is going to go through so
many changes. Whether Microsoft shows it off now, or six months or a year
from now, what’s the difference? The final interface may look very
different anyway.”

But for developers, Avalon is likely far more important at this stage,
Wilcox explained, noting that supporting Avalon could require a lot of prog
ramming to ensure applications take advantage of all the things the graphic
engine enables. Early access to Avalon is even more important to hardware
developers, he said, because they require much longer lead time.


Backing that up, the entire Client track at the conference focuses on
Avalon.

In the Web services realm, Microsoft will also spend a lot of time
discussing Indigo, Microsoft’s forthcoming programming model and framework
for building connected applications and Web services. Microsoft has largely
kept quiet on the topic of Indigo, which is expected to debut in the
Longhorn timeframe. But that quiet period should come to an end with the
PDC, with the Web services track devoted almost entirely to that
technology.

It is not clear how much time Microsoft will devote to NGSCB at the show.
At the WinHEC
show
in May, Microsoft held 16 hours of breakout sessions on the
technology, which depends upon deep collaboration between Microsoft and
hardware providers. At that show, Gates said that NGSCB will combine work
on the processor, keyboard (which will incorporate cryptographic
technology), video display and Windows itself — a software component
dubbed “Nexus.” The controversial NGSCB technology, which some critics have
suggested could serve as a Trojan for Microsoft-placed digital rights
management (DRM) technology, works by creating a secondary operating
environment within Windows that securely connects applications, memory,
storage and peripherals.

Bryan Willman, a leading Microsoft Windows architect focused on NGSCB, said
at the time that the security platform delivers four fundamental
components: attestation, sealed storage, strong process isolation and
secure input and output.

Willman compared attestation to having a document notarized, allowing other
computers to verify that a computer is the computer it claims to be and is
running the software it claims to be running. Meanwhile, sealed storage
allows users to encrypt information. Strong process isolation “essentially
acts as a bank vault,” Willman said.

“What we’ve done is carve out a secure area — what we call the ‘right-hand
side’ — which looks a lot like the regular CPU that you use to do normal,
day-to-day computing, which we call the ‘left-hand side,'” Willman said.
“Today, computers only have a left-hand side. With NGSCB, operations that
run on the right-hand side are protected and isolated from the left-hand
side, which makes them significantly more secure from attack.”

The final component, secure input and output, encrypts keystrokes before
they can be read by software and then decrypts them once they reach the
right-hand side.

“That means that nobody can use malicious software to record and steal or
modify your keyboard’s strokes,” Willman said. “Secure output is similar.
The information that appears onscreen can be presented to the user so that
no one else can intercept it and read it.”

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