Microsoft talks Longhorn at developer conference

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 last month 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) here, 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, a communications architecture providing 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, which 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 10 years, software has held back the “digital decade” and that software, not hardware, has been the primary limitation.

“Longhorn will deal with those constraints.”

The same day, Jim Allchin, group vice-president of the Platforms Group at Microsoft, provided attendees a preview of WinFX, an application programming model for Longhorn. WinFX allows developers to work productively and to increase 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.

Future users of the upcoming OS were busily trying to bone up on the nuances of Longhorn. Officials at Cactus, a Quebec-based independent software vendor represented at the conference, are making moves to stay on the leading edge of Microsoft technology, according to Sylvain Duford, chief technical architect with the company.

Many of Cactus’ customers are still using Windows 2000 and the adoption to 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 adoption of Longhorn.

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, Carroll 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 dialup 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.”

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

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