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Gates primes the pump for Longhorn

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Microsoft will probably ship the client version of Longhorn before its server counterpart, says Bill Gates.

This tentative prediction was made in Gates's rallying call to software developers to get behind the next version of Windows, at the Developing Software for the future Microsoft Platform in London yesterday. Even though Longhorm isn't due until 2006, Microsoft used the conference to build developer enthusiasm ("prime the pump") for the next version of Windows, which promises substantial architectural changes.

Longhorn’s major features include a revamp of the presentation layer (codenamed Avalon), a radical restructuring of the file system (WinFS) and far deeper integration of Web services technology (Indigo).

Altogether the enhancements amount to the greatest step change for Microsoft since it moved from NT to Windows 2000 four years ago.

Gates said Microsoft has been trying to develop a unified file system for some time. WinFS promises a file systems based on a relational database derived from SQL Server and the ability to search and manipulate data according to XML tags. Documents could be organised based on a keyword, author or some form of user-defined criteria.

With Longhorn it’s also goodbye to the Registry and hello to richer replication.

Middleware becomes underwear

The OS is crammed to the brim with middleware so that only "high end transaction processing" technology will have a life outside the platform. Microsoft argues this approach is necessary to build a better platform for e-commerce and to improve efficiencies within organisational boundaries.

Gates told developers that Microsoft was re-architecting the internals of the OS - everything from modelling to device drivers - with Longhorn. For developers, Microsoft promises that the OS will offer faster, easier development.

Longhorn will allow clients and servers to run in a stateless mode - where data and applications run concurrently on both a server and a PC running Longhorn - to exchange information and complete a task. "We are fudging the line between client and server," said Gates.

Egg timer

Tom Ilube, CIO at online bank Egg, demonstrated an application developed using Longhorn to show how Egg's online banking service is evolving towards a real-time system with more features to differentiate itself from online competitors.

The demo showed how a customer's PC could be running a Web banking application constantly in contact with Egg's back-end systems. In this way it is possible for users to be notified about questionable transactions more quickly, for example.

Although this prototype went down well with developers their real enthusiasm was reserved for the ability to do "rich search and views" which WinFS enables. Quite a few developers were comparing the ability to put together a document with embedded video clips, links, picture and data to the way data could be manipulated in the futuristic film Minority Report.

The interface is snappy but the Web-services hooks aren't finished yet, according to the demos we saw yesterday. So let's not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Future perfect

Gates said Longhorn will provide greater support for technologies such as instant messaging and VoIP. However greater support for speech synthesis and recognition will probably have to wait until Blackcomb, the successor to Longhorn.

An audience member asked Gates about his predictions for the future, cheekily pointing out that apart from his forecast that PC would only ever need 640K of RAM most of his predictions had been close to the mark.

Gates said he'd been misunderstood about the 640K prediction, which only referred back to the maximum address space of Intel's 8086 processor.

Looking towards the future, Gates said he didn't foresee the industry running out of the address space possible with 64 bit computing "in the foreseeable future". ®

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