We last looked at an alpha of Longhorn, Microsoft Corp.s next-generation operating system, in May 2004. We were even able to get elements of the Aero desktop running, plus took a look at the ambitious WinFS file system.
Since then, Microsoft has removed the advanced filing system WinFS and made other key changes. Microsoft released an updated alpha of Longhorn, Build 5048, at this years WinHEC (the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference).
We installed the Longhorn build on a Dell Inc. Inspiron XPS notebook PC, figuring that the 3.4GHz Pentium 4 processor and ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics chip would have enough horsepower to handle even a stripped-down version of Longhorn.
Unfortunately, the driver subsystem has a long way to go, as Longhorn failed to recognize either the Mobility Radeon 9700 or the Gigabit Ethernet chip built into the XPS system. But that just gave us an excuse to install the 64-bit version of the build on a beefed-up desktop system, which ended up working just fine.
Our first impression, upon booting up Longhorn, was that the companys engineers have made some key refinements to the interface. While not flashy, they should prove very useful for daily computing. Some of these ideas were present in skeletal fashion in the current build, but are more fully realized in this build.
Microsoft also gave a peek at more advanced interface ideas in the keynote presentation that was given by Bill Gates and others at the start of WinHEC.