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.
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“The biggest focus for the Longhorn shell is storage,” says the developer source. Storage efficiency and scalability are the Longhorn watchwords, he adds. “Think of how many photos you have for example on your computer right now. How many will you have in five years? Would the current model of management hold up or seem dated by then?”
Other Longhorn features that sources who have seen recent demos say are under development include:
- More system self-tuning, and not just in terms of the placement of tasks on menus based on how often a user selects a given option. Think of all menus becoming more like the Favorites option that would be applied to more than just Web pages;
- Better multi-monitor support, including support for displaying the Windows Taskbar across multiple systems simultaneously;
- More explicit error messages, especially around copying/moving files and handling documents and digital media, in general;
- Easier application installation;
- More stringent user permissions. In the same way a parent can control a childs account via MSN 8 Parental Controls, system administrators will be able to use the latest Passport and security controls to lock down users machines;
- More self-healing and automation of daily operations. The ideal: Insulate average users from having to do any routine system maintenance tasks;
- Better management of plug-ins and ActiveX components, beyond what is done in the system registry.
Microsoft officials have offered few details about Longhorn. Group Vice President Jim Allchin, in a recent interview with eWEEK, said that Microsofts goal is to deliver Longhorn client and server versions simultaneously. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has said publicly that Microsoft expects to deliver Longhorn in 2005.
Before then, Microsofts Windows team needs to ship Windows .Net Server 2003, which Microsoft is expected to launch in the first quarter of 2003. Some third-party development sources say Microsoft also is likely to deliver some kind of interim Windows release at least for desktop machines, before Longhorn hits the streets.
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