Gates kicks of PDC with Longhorn preview

LOS ANGELES – Launching what he called the next wave of software opportunities at Microsoft Corp., Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect of the Redmond, Wash.-based company on Monday offered developers the first peek at Longhorn – the next version of Windows expected to be released in 2006.

As he kicked off the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles, Gates said Longhorn is the biggest release of the decade and the biggest since the release of Windows 95.

“There is an opportunity for software development to be stronger in this decade than any other decade,” he said.

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 subsystems 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 Gates referred to as his “holy grail.”

An animated Hillel Cooperman, manager of Windows user experience with the Microsoft product unit, provided a preview of the Longhorn desktop. He demonstrated the top-level view of the transparent Windows, that resembles the current Windows versions, as well as a transparent sidebar on the right side of the screen that displays, among other things, a clock and instant messenger contacts.

Gates talked about how in the past ten years, software has held back the “digital decade” and that software, not hardware, has been the primary limitation.

“Longhorn will deal with those constraints.”

Also on Monday, Jim Allchin, group vice-president of the Platforms Group at Microsoft, provided attendees a preview of WinFS, an application programming model for Longhorn. WinFS allows developers to work productively as well as increases application security and reliability, Microsoft said.

Other focus areas for Allchin included performance improvements that would come from technologies such as SuperFetch, a new development that helps applications launch quicker, and ClickOnce, a new technology that speeds and simplifies application development.

With the release of Longhorn, Microsoft has also been talking about focusing more on fundamentals, such as security.

In a separate presentation earlier this week, Amy Carroll, director, security business unit with Microsoft, said “security is in a bad place.”

With patches proliferating and exploits getting more sophisticated, Carroll said there is no one silver bullet, but change requires innovation.

The company recently changed its patching process to a monthly schedule, Caroll explained, in an effort to keep the number of patches being released less overwhelming. The patches for one month are available in one package or as individual patches.

Patch size is another issue that Microsoft is aiming to fix. By reducing the size of the patches by 35 per cent this year, Carroll said downtime would be trimmed, especially for those customers attempting to download patches on a dial-up connection. By May 2004, Microsoft is aiming to reduce the size of patches by 80 per cent.

“We know that 100 per cent vulnerability free is an impossible goal,” Carroll said. “We know we are making improvements but we still have a long way to go.”

Gates briefly discussed milestones reached at previous PDCs. At the event in 1992, Microsoft launched the 32-bit and then in 1996 the company touted the Internet. XML and Web services took centre stage at the 2000 PDC and now, in 2003, Gates explained the company is trying to make software better with the unveiling of the “next generation of Windows.”

“This will bring computing to a whole new level,” he said.

The theme of the conference is about ‘getting connected’, which is somewhat fitting, considering that many conference delegates have been frantically trying to find connecting flights so they can get to the conference, Gates explained. The Los Angeles International Airport has been experiencing landing delays due to wild fires that are burning in southern California.

The conference includes 140 sessions hosted by Microsoft developers and wraps up on Thursday with a security symposium. Microsoft’s PDC is on the Web at