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First Look: Longhorn Beta Build 5048

[Editor's Note: The following report was prepared by CMP's Pipeline Editor Scot Finnie, as part of his independent "Scot's Newsletter."]

I spent a good part of a recent weekend, in between my son's soggy baseball games, working through the 5048 Windows Longhorn build that was distributed to all Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) attendees in late April. Part of that time, I was enabling the "Glass" features (transparency, blurring, reflections, and 3D effects) and the rest of the time I was attempting to work through the available new features in the late alpha code. The last issue of the newsletter gave you a solid overview of some of the features and technologies slated to appear in the final version of Longhorn that were talked about at WinHEC. I eagerly looked forward to playing around with at least some of these things after installing the bits.

Longhorn's desktop

Click on Pictures to Enlarge

I have to admit that the code I returned home with is disappointing. Many of the more interesting features either aren't there or only have basic placeholders where they will eventually have something hopefully much better that actually works. But Microsoft isn't a bad company or in trouble because its late alpha release of Longhorn doesn't do what we'd all hoped it might by now. Microsoft decided about a year ago to base Windows Longhorn on the more reliable Windows Server 2003 code base than on the Windows XP code, upon which they had been building Longhorn. That meant the development team had to start over on many of the Longhorn modules it built for the PDC2003 version of Longhorn. Make no mistake, some of Microsoft's developers were pulled off Longhorn to work on Windows Server 2003 SP1 and Windows Server R2. And it was already behind because Windows XP SP2 siphoned off development resources. But I'm glad Microsoft is making the right decisions now about how to build its next desktop OS.

What's more, I'm going to save any serious criticism for the final product. How long it takes to ship matters not one whit to me. And it shouldn't to you either. What matters is that Microsoft delivers a solid, reliable, refined version of desktop Windows at the end of 2006 that's worth upgrading to. The only people who really need a new version of Windows are Microsoft stockholders. It's an operating system, not a cure for cancer.

Let me help set the proper expectations: Microsoft has warned reviewers and developers that Longhorn won't even approach being feature complete until Beta 2. Many of the best features will come later because, of course, they're more difficult to implement. There will probably even be some features added, or visually and functionally revamped, in the first release candidate. And none of it is a surprise for anyone who watches Windows development cycles. Nothing about this is unusual. Microsoft isn't even terribly late with Longhorn. A roughly fire-year spread between major releases is just fine by me.

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