Developers prepare for Longhorn

Los Angeles – Although the official launch of Longhorn is more than two years away, several Canadian developers are happy that Microsoft Corp. provided them with a sneak peek at its next generation of Windows.

“It’s important for us to know if the direction of Windows 2003 and Longhorn is totally different – we have to start to set up our own direction,” said Sungsoon Kung, director of product management at Nakisa Inc., a Microsoft-based independent software vendor (ISV) in Montreal. “We have to start working with our customers.”

The sooner Kung knows what direction Microsoft is heading with Longhorn, and what the future of Windows might be, the sooner he can start preparing his firm to follow the same path, he said.

“It’s important for ISVs because we are investing a lot of money,” Kung said during an interview with ComputerWorld Canada at last month’s Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles. Longhorn was previewed for the first time at the conference to over 7,000 developers from around the globe.

What they discovered is the Longhorn desktop offers users transparent task windows and a transparent sidebar located to the right side of the screen that displays, among other things, a clock and Messenger contacts.

Longhorn revolves around three major Microsoft pillars including Avalon, a graphics and presentation engine; Indigo, which is a communications architecture and provides advanced Web services support; and WinFS, the storage subsystem in Windows for data which is also a programming model that provides high productivity for building applications.

This unified file system and the ability to take XML technology and put it into file systems is what Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft, referred to as his “holy grail” during his keynote address at the conference.

The fact that XML is being ingrained into the source code with Extensible Application Mark-up Language (XAML) is one major reason developers need time to work with Longhorn before its official launch, said David Senf, senior analyst with IDC Canada Ltd. “It will change the way programs are developed.”

By splitting the user interface codes from the application codes with XAML, the graphics designers and the development of applications will become separate.

“The separation of the UI from the actual meat, the guts of the application, is significant in itself and requires time to wrap your head around that separation,” Senf added.

It’s enough to make Sylvain Duford, chief technical architect with Cactus, another Quebec-based ISV, want to stay on the leading edge of Microsoft technology.

“For developers, one thing that’s nice to see is the merging of Windows and the Web,” he said, referring to XAML. “It’s very powerful and will save developers a lot of time.”

Many of Cactus’ customers are still using Windows 2000 and the adoption of more recent versions is also just starting to take place, Duford explained. “I think we’ll be in good shape for Longhorn,” he said, adding that getting one of his customers into the early adopter program is another step he thinks will be helpful in the move to Longhorn.

Elliot Katz, Windows client product manager with Microsoft Canada, said the Longhorn preview is the earliest he’s ever seen information being given out about a Microsoft product.

“[Microsoft] has been very early talking about details much more publicly than they have in the past,” he said. “It’s the good news of the future.”

The fact that Longhorn isn’t another product upgrade, but is a platform and direction shift for the Windows platform, is likely one of the reasons why the software giant has offered such an early preview of the next generation of Windows, Senf added.