(Almost) everything may go, as Longhorn rushes to release

Rearranging the wish list

If Microsoft had counted on this week's WinHEC hardware conference to raise enthusiasm for the next release on Windows, then the event can certainly be judged a success. The build that found its way into developers' hands isn't the leviathan some feared: it purrs along happily with 512MB and a modest 16MB graphics card, although a 64MB card will be needed to take full advantage of the new compositor.

More importantly, eighteen long months of concepts and code snippets are starting to coalesce into a real product that looks like a marked improvement on its predecessors: at least for developers. The Managed APIs, for example, are clearly a quantum leap over the cruft that has dogged Windows since version 1.0, nearly 20 years ago. Microsoft wants developers to write to the new cleaner APIs offered by .NET and XAML, and this is clearly a much better option for green-field developers. Established ISVs don't have this luxury, and that's starting to exert some inertia on the most ambitious Longhorn plans.

It emerged this week that not all of the goodies will make their way into the final product. The Trusted Computing portion Longhorn NGSCB, we've independently confirmed, won't be accessible through the Managed APIs. In place of NGSCB, NX and Janus (Microsoft's new DRM scheme) received heavy promotion at WinHEC.

Although it's too early for final decisions to have been taken, we understand that two areas are considered essential, while the rest are candidates for severe pruning, if timescales slip. WinFS and the new graphics subsystems are the two technologies viewed as mandatory. The latter is less about eye candy than about removing Windows' constraint on a fixed physical resolution. As the pixel density and size of displays increases at a pace, text will simply be unreadable in a few years, unless the graphics subsystems are modified. And this portion is going to plan.

WinFS has been scaled back from the lofty ambitions originally envisaged three years ago, when it was talked about as an entirely new file system with file system plug-ins. It was revised to become an incremental enhancement to NTFS, the file system that debuted with Windows NT eleven years ago.

Correspondents reckon that stories, including ours, that WinFS would not have network support is not really news, as product managers have been cagey about making such promises for the client.

"WinFS is not the sum of all blog rumors," product manager Toby Whitney pointed out in a talk at last year's Microsoft Professional Developer Conference. The WinFS features useful to enterprises will be in Longhorn Server and haven't been yet been fully revealed. The WinFS feature set for the client still offers a better for sorting and retrieving personal digital media than XP.

The problem between now and 2006, with co-ordinated windpower of four hundred bloggers blowing Longhorn down the launchway, is making sure that expectations stay in line with the reality. ®

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