Longhorn Out of the Microsoft Corral?

Screen shots of an alleged early version of Microsoft's next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn, were posted to the Web this weekend.

Microsoft still has yet to deliver the second release candidate (RC2) of Windows .Net Server 2003, but that doesnt mean work on the version of Windows due in 2005, code-named Longhorn, has come to a standstill.

Over the weekend, a couple of Windows enthusiast Web sites, led by Winbeta.org, posted a handful of screen shots of an alleged early version of Longhorn. The Winbeta site was down almost all day Monday, with a message claiming the site was "in maintenance." But other Windows sites, including Binks Windows, ieXbeta.com and xBetas.com all were sporting alleged Longhorn screens, too.

Several developer sources who said they had seen previous sneak peeks of Longhorn said the posted screens looked authentic.

A Microsoft spokesman said on Monday that the company declined to comment on the authenticity of the screen shots.

The posted screens show off the new, simplified Longhorn user interface, including the dockable task pane, which the screens label as "Sidebar." Sidebar also can function as a movable task bar.

Previously, members of the Windows community had speculated that this dockable pane was based on a Microsoft-Research-developed technology, code-named Sideshow. It still is not clear how and even if Sidebar and Sideshow are related.

The newly posted screens also highlight Longhorns inclusion of Avalon, the .Net-based successor to the Win32 subsystem, as well as the Yukon file system, which the screens label as "WFS," or Windows file system.

Longhorn is still in the pre-alpha stage. Microsoft has not announced a beta-release target date. But the Redmond, Wash.-based software vendor has been demonstrating Longhorn for some of its major customers and closest third-party software developers under nondisclosure, say sources.

One third-party developer, who requested anonymity, said the Longhorn shell, or user interface, is taking shape quite nicely. Microsoft is developing a Longhorn compositing video application-programming interface for apps written with .NET that is similar to Apples Quartz on Mac OS X, he says.

With Longhorn—as the posted screens make clear—storage gets top billing. Microsoft has said that one of the companys primary goals with the Longhorn release is to make it easier for users to find files and data and other information, whether stored locally, remotely or out on the Internet.