Longhorn Outruns XP, Threatens Tiger

News Analysis: With updated security and networking features, Microsoft's hare may be ready to overtake Apple's tortoise … for now.

In the operating system race thus far, Apples incremental approach to system releases has paid off compared to Microsofts strategy of giant leaps at long intervals.

Since Windows XP shipped in 2001, Apple has shipped five major versions of Mac OS X. Apples Unix-based operating system started out far behind Windows XP, but is now out in front in terms of features, functionality and user interface.

But Apple has promised to release its next big cat release, code-named Leopard, at the same time that Microsoft lets Longhorn out if its pen.


Security is one area where Longhorn is more sophisticated than Tiger. For instance, Internet Explorer will run in a "containment area" that will attempt to keep worms and spyware out of Windows.

Longhorn will support laptops with Trusted Platform Module chips, which create a secure boot that protects hardware and applications from being run by unauthorized users or by malicious software.

Longhorn and Tiger both have the ability to automatically encrypt all data on the hard disk, a feature missing from Windows XP.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read about updates to Dr. Watson, Microsofts error-reporting tool, and why some prospective users are dubious.

File Management

In some areas of file management, Longhorn plays catch-up to Tiger. Longhorns Virtual Folders concept is the same as that of Tigers Smart Folders. Virtual Folders automatically create shortcut files based on criteria set by the user, and places the files in a folder. (Tigers Smart Folder does this with aliases.)

Windows XP has nothing like this feature. Users can create shortcuts manually, and applications can create when they are installed, often resulting in a desktop that is a jumble of shortcut icons.

Longhorn will also have file management features that neither Tiger nor Windows XP have. A new backup system will record incremental changes to a file and copy them to a protected area.

Data Retrieval

Tiger is clearly ahead of Windows XP in enabling users to access data, and will remain ahead of Longhorn. Apples search technology, Spotlight, lets users search for not just files, but e-mail messages, contacts, calendars, and other data handled by certain applications. Spotlight also returns information nearly instantaneously.

Tiger handles data retrieval so well that Spotlight is a viable alternative to the dated desktop/folder/document metaphor that has been the basis of GUIs since 1984.

Windows XP also indexes, but only on files without the use of metadata, and it works slowly. Microsofts new file system, WinFS, would have been more sophisticated than Spotlight, built in at a lower level and allowing users to customize the metadata to search. But Microsoft pulled WinFS from Longhorn earlier this year, and it will probably be years before it ends up in Windows.

/zimages/3/28571.gifRead more here about Microsofts decision to pull WinFS from Longhorn.

User Interface

Microsoft has not revealed much of Aero, the Longhorn user interface (which Microsoft refers to as the "user experience"). At this point, it has a surface resemblance to Mac OS X, with a lot of 3-D elements. It does, however, have some nice touches that Tiger doesnt.

Next Page: Tiger pulls ahead with simpler steps.