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PDC 2003 Microsoft Monday gave a sneak preview of their next-generation operating system Windows Longhorn. At a sold-out Professionals Developers Conference (PDC), the software giant's premier developer event in Los Angeles, Bill Gates called Longhorn 'the most important Windows release since Windows 95'.

Along with Jim Allchin, group vice president of the Platform Group at Microsoft, the chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft discussed four major areas of platform innovation.

Not surprisingly, given the recent concern over Windows security issues, Longhorn will extend the security technologies already in development for Windows XP to protect against malicious exploits, as well as introduce new security improvements at the architecture level that developers can take advantage of.

There is also going to be a new presentation technology, code-named Avalon, which will be the foundation for the Longhorn shell. The XML-based graphics and presentation engine will provide Longhorn with a completely different, Apple-like transparent look and a handy taskbar to the right of the screen.
This replaces the system tray bar and also augments it with new options, including RSS feeds, a big (very big) clock and a Who is in my neighborhood service, informing users about who is in the vicinity with a PDA, laptop or smartphone.

A major change for Windows will be WinFS. Based on the relational database Yukon, this next generation of data storage will provide Longhorn with vastly improved ways to find, relate and act on information. Documents on the hard disk or on the company network, for instance, can be sorted by author and those documents are presented as if they are in a single folder, or as "stacks" based on another single common attribute.

There is also a new communications technology named Indigo, which provides users with capabilities for more secure messaging and interoperability.

Some companies are already working at applications for Longhorn. Adobe showed a prototype of Adobe After Effects that can unify documents, graphics and rich media. Developers will be able to build animated charts and graphs that are linked to back end data sources to produce a smart solution that displays stock prices and sales.

Pharmaceutical research firm Merck & Co demonstrated an application that connects information from patients, doctors and technology systems to automate collection and processing of data in clinical trials. The application can connect thousands of clinical trial participants in remote locations.

Bill Gates didn't mention a release date for Longhorn, but analysts do not expect the new release before 2006. A first beta will be released in the second half of 2004, along with a new Service Pack for Windows XP.

Conference attendees this week receive a DVD with an early version of Longhorn (both 64- and 32-bit editions) and also forthcoming editions of Microsoft's development tool Visual Studio.Net (code-named Whidbey) and the new SQL Server, Yukon.

Allchin warned developers that the performance of the Longhorn edition is "not good...we never shared code this early," he told developers. "Only install it on high performance machines." ®

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