Up Close with the Latest Longhorn Build

The next version of Windows is still several years away, but PC Magazine offers a sneak peek. Take a guided tour of the 4072 build of Longhorn from the disc handed to WinHEC attendees in Seattle.

At this years Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), Microsoft released another sneak peek at its next generation operating system, code-named Longhorn. PC Magazine, along with the rest of the WinHEC attendees, received a DVD with the 4072 build. This preview is based on that build.

The latest build is similar to the one released at Microsofts Professional Developers Conference last September. A few things have been added, though not all are obvious. At first blush, Longhorn appears to retain the look and feel of the earlier versions except for some new background art.

The bulky-looking taskbar still consumes considerable real estate on the right side of the screen, though you can minimize the bar. The overall user interface has been streamlined a bit and made more consistent. Longhorn builds a contact manager into the operating system itself and even allows users to pin frequent contacts to the taskbar.

Although the surface looks placid, some goodies lurk beneath. As Neowin (http://www.neowin.net) reported, the Avalon desktop window manager (DWM) is incorporated into this build of Longhorn, though its inactive on startup.

Avalon will be the replacement for the existing Windows desktop graphics technologies, and is built on XML and DirectX. Avalon itself is an API framework, much like the GDI interface on which the current Windows desktops are built.

The Avalon DWM alters the look and feel of the desktop just a bit. On the surface, the changes dont seem dramatic. The "bugs"8212the minimize/maximize/close buttons8212at the top right change a bit in appearance. The windows themselves, however, are now individual 3D surfaces.

Each window, when layered above another, appears to float on top of the one below, complete with a soft drop shadow. When you hit ALT-TAB to task switch, all the windows suddenly tilt inward and neatly layer. This allows you to see all the windows more clearly.

DWM is not without bugs. The desktop manager is enabled in a DOS shell screen, and resides in \windows\i386. You type "SBCTL Start" to turn on DWM. As soon as you do, all the text and icons in the taskbar disappear, and youre left with a featureless expanse of gray.

These slick, 3D-accelerated features come at a cost, too. Even on our testbed, a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 running a high-end ATI Radeon 9800XT graphics card, the Avalon DWM seemed just a tad sluggish. Additional cool features, like the compositing manager, werent available yet.

The 3D features require DirectX 9.0, and this version of the OS ships with DirectX 9.0b, unlike the fall preview, which only had DirectX 8. In fact, we were able to run 3DMark 2003 with no problems using the default Radeon 9800XT driver embedded in build 4072. (You can read more about Longhorns anticipated 3D nature here.)

We observed another interesting feature, called castles, although we werent able to test it. Think of castles as "mini-domains" you can create on a home network. Unlike full domains, these require no domain server. They have many of the features of full domains and build in greater security than the workgroup paradigm familiar to most users of home networks.

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To read the full story and view the slideshow of Longhorn screen shots,

click here.