Microsoft: Why Longhorn Matters

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2005-04-15

Microsoft: Why Longhorn Matters

The doubts of naysayers aside, Longhorn is going to be a heck of a lot more than just Windows XP Service Pack 3.

Thats the view of Jim Allchin, the group vice president of Microsoft Corp.s Platforms group, who told in an interview that Longhorn is a "big deal"—not just for the company, but also for the industry, as it will create a lot of opportunity, especially for new programs leveraging the peer-to-peer platform.

Allchins claims come at a critical time for Microsoft, which is prepping the next version of its Windows desktop to launch by holiday season 2006.

A pre-beta preview of the Longhorn client, optimized for OEMs and software vendors building drivers and applications, will be distributed to attendees of Microsofts WinHEC in Seattle at the end of this month.

Microsoft first started talking publicly about Longhorn in 2003, promising that it would revolutionize information storage and retrieval; deliver vast improvements on the security front; and make huge strides in PC usability and reliability.

Last summer, the company was forced to excise what until then had been Longhorns backbone—the WinFS Windows file system—in order to meet its 2006 timetable.

Since that time, industry watchers have been casting increasing doubt on Microsofts ability to deliver a Windows release with enough compelling features to convince customers to upgrade from older Windows variants, as well as to stem defections from Windows to other platforms.

Microsoft is prepared to spend a large amount of money developing, marketing and promoting Longhorn as the platform for the next decade, Allchin said, adding that the Longhorn development team is also working toward creating an API set for longevity.

Longhorn will also be native IP Version 6 (IPV-6) from top to bottom, "so the day that a customer wants to go to it they can, without having to worry about some part of the operating system still being IPV-4. Were trying to produce something that is ready when the customer is," he said.

In a lengthy explanation of why he thinks Longhorn is important, Allchin prefaced his thoughts by saying this was subject to change, "because I may see other things that havent even made it to Beta One yet that are even more compelling. But this is what I believe right now. This is Jims view."

Next Page: Security, safety and search come to the fore.

Security, Safety and Search

Top of the list is "unrivalled" security and safety, with the Longhorn development team focused on doing the best possible job in that space. "I think it will be appreciated," he said, pointing out the firewall and other changes that were visible in Windows XP Service Pack 2.

According to Allchin, Microsoft is doing a "significant, significant" amount of work on security in Longhorn as well, which includes an outward-bound firewall in addition to an inbound one, and the ability to have a filter on it.

Also included will be the first part of its NGSCB (Next-Generation Secure Computing Base) vision, which it is calling Secure Startup.

"If you have a laptop and you lose it or leave it in a taxicab, no one will be able to boot something else and sneak around and try to find out what was on your machine. So its basically whole-volume encryption and the ability to lock the hardware to the software," he said.

Click here to read more about NGSCB, originally code-named Palladium, the built-in Windows security system that will appear in Microsofts upcoming Longhorn OS.

On the safety front, most users today run as administrators. "We are changing that—users will be running as standard users, and in particular, with Internet Explorer, they can run that even in a lower privilege, so they can contain when they are browsing on the Internet versus on the intranet and can have more assurances they are not going to have bad things leak over," he said.

On the mobility front there are also many new features, from Secure Startup to auxiliary displays—in which users can see calendars and other items when the machine is "pseudo-shut off"—to the reworked client-side caching, about which Allchin said, "We have done a very good job in that regard."

Longhorn will also move the concept of "search" forward, toward something Allchin calls "Visualize and Organize."

Microsoft is also working on reducing the operational cost of the system. While the onus for this will be on Microsoft to prove, Allchin said he felt this release of Longhorn included enough features that Microsoft will be able to show where these cost savings would come from.

Corporate and enterprise users will benefit from features like the massive reduction of images needing maintenance, as well as from being able to manipulate those images offline. A new event system will let users track what is going on in the system, Allchin said, while there will be a dramatic reduction in the number of reboots required when systems are updated. Add hot patching into the mix and these features, and many others, when taken together "will be consequential," Allchin said.

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