Presentation, communications changes hold great promise.
Throughout the years of pre-announcements, the promised "three pillars" of the next Windows platform have been described as major improvements in data accessibility, interactive presentation and behind-the-scenes communication. The first of these has proved wobbly, but the other two continue to be key differentiators for Microsoft Corp.s forthcoming Windows Vista.
The pillar of data access stood initially on the promise of WinFS, an ambitious reinvention of information storage and retrieval. Like the similar promise of Cairo, once touted as a component of a prospective Windows NT 5.0, WinFS is behaving more like a continually receding mirage than a vision of whats soon to come. Actual availability of WinFS technology is no longer pegged to any specific Microsoft product or schedule.
Data access improvements in the forthcoming Windows Vista rely on the less disruptive technologies of extensible property stores, metadata search and virtual storage locations that are already familiar to users of Apple Computer Inc.s Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) platform. Microsoft and, indeed, Apple plan to surpass the current Apple metadata technology in their respective 2006 products. We expect to see significant advancements in both Windows Vista and Apples expected OS X 10.5 (Leopard), with neither offering revolutionary change.
Getting WinFS off the obstacle course on the way to Windows Vista is good news for developers, who now are able to focus on Vistas facilities of presentation (formerly "Avalon," now Windows Presentation Foundation) and communication (formerly "Indigo," now Windows Communication Foundation) to differentiate their next-generation applications.
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The communication framework, it appears to eWEEK Labs, has the greater potential to change the way that networks and applications affect users everyday lives. Instead of being tied to a specific device, such as a PC or a cellular phone, an application will be able to run on a server or a peer-to-peer constellation, manifesting itself in different waysoften through Web services interfacesto serve a user in different settings.
A developer using Windows Communication Foundation will be able to write a small amount of code to invoke sophisticated and robust capabilities, such as a queued stream of data on recent events. A user could then catch up on whats been happening, using a full-screen client, after being alerted via pager or smart phone that something unusual has occurred.
The developer would not need to know, or care, whether the user was at a desk or in a mobile setting at the time that critical event data started to flow. Security and message integrity standards will be encapsulated in the framework, easing developers learning curves on the way to Web services mastery. QOS (quality of service) alerts and management options will be available to both applications and users.
Microsoft Web Services Strategy Lead Product Manager Ari Bixhorn has stated that Windows Communication Foundation will be available on Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, broadening its user base beyond Vistas early adopters.
Windows Presentation Foundation likely will be the piece of Vista that does the most to inspire sales of upgraded PC hardware. Its vector-based graphics rendering will make the most of graphics accelerators and high-resolution displays. A "Vista Ready" logo on a PC, it appears from early Microsoft guidelines, will require a graphics board with DirectX 9 capability and at least 64MB of RAM. Less capable PCs will run a software-rendered Classic environment instead of the more sophisticated Aero or high-end Aero Glass graphics and animations.
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The presentation platform will increase developer productivity by offering extensible classes of controls, documents and other visual elements. It will also support a declarative programming model, using Microsofts XML-based XAML (Extensible Application Markup Language), enabling rapid application development and modification.
Platform success also depends on developer tools, with open-source platforms now supported by superb products that are often free. Microsofts Professional Developer Conference in Los Angeles next month will be a vital step on the road to Vista.
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Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at salesforce.com, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.