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The Lowdown On Longhorn

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

I returned from WinHEC with a recent build (5048) of Windows Longhorn. In sessions at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) and a private interview with Microsoft Windows Product Manager Greg Sullivan, I learned quite a bit about Longhorn worth updating you about right away. Here are the high points:

Release Timing. Longhorn, Microsoft's code name for the next version of Windows, is expected to ship at the end of 2006, in time for the December holiday season. You may recall that Windows XP shipped in the same time frame in 2001. Microsoft needs to wrap everything up on the front side of October to ensure that the finished product will be in the pipeline by December. Published reports say that the current target date for Beta 1 of Windows Longhorn is June 30, 2005. But Microsoft officials tell me privately that early to mid July is a safer bet. Longhorn will have a second major beta and if it follows true to form, it'll move into release candidates (RCs) sometime in the summer of 2006. Roughly speaking, major betas are separated by about six months, so figure Beta 2 by early next year. Microsoft is stating openly that Beta 1 will not be 100% feature complete. With history as a guide, it's likely that at least a handful of new features will also be checked in after Beta 2. Even so, Beta 2 is when a lot of features Microsoft has been talking about get real for the first time. You can expect reviews of both Beta 1 and Beta 2 in Scot's Newsletter. I'll also be covering the release candidates.

Still An Ambitious Upgrade. Contrary to earlier reports, Windows Longhorn remains an ambitious upgrade of the OS. There are a lot of brand spanking new parts underneath the next version of Windows. The new presentation subsystem, code-named Avalon, is still there, despite rumors that it might be trimmed back or even cut out. The new communications subsystem, code-named Indigo, is still planned. The new WinFX APIs (application programming interfaces) are still in there. The new file system, WinFS, will not ship with Longhorn, but as Microsoft announced last year, it intends to ship WinFS at the same time it ships Windows Longhorn Server — probably in late 2007 or early 2008. For more information on Windows Longhorn, see my coverage of the PDC2003 alpha release in Inside Longhorn: The Next Version of Windows (Scot's Newsletter) and Making Sense Of Windows Longhorn (PC Today). The look and feel has changed, and for the better. But near as I can tell, much of what I wrote back then still pertains.

Based On Server 2003 Code. Windows Longhorn for the desktop will be based on an upgrade of the Windows Server 2003 code base, not the Windows XP code. Microsoft claims that this will make the next desktop version of Windows notably more stable than Windows XP.

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