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Gates previews Windows Vista and Office 12

Déjà vu all over again

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Two years after unveiling Microsoft's "biggest release of the decade" Bill Gates is back to preview features in the upcoming Windows Vista client, along with Office 12.

Opening Microsoft's Professional Developers' Conference (PDC)in Los Angeles, Gates set the scene for the first public demonstrations of Windows Vista and Office 12 architectures and interface features that are intended to help users and developers.

The big-ticket features will have more than a ring of familiarity to many: Windows Vista introduces a set of Gadgets that enable information services such as RSS-enabled newsfeed sto run on the desktop, outside of the browser. Gadgets are pieces of XML, DHTML and .NET code, and are similar to a set of Java-based plug-ins for Apple Computer's Tiger OS X 10.4 operating system.

Additionally, users can flip individual Windows around and view them from behind, in a similar style to Sun Microsystems' Looking Glass technology. Microsoft also plans to rival the increasingly popular Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) web client framework with a technology codenamed Atlas. Atlas uses DHTML and XML script to simplify the development of rich, interactive, browser-based applications.

Among the other changes unveiled in Windows Vista is the ability to search for information and web links using a search function located inside the Windows start-menu. Applications can also be saved as thumbnails and related documents in a flat list of icons, or virtual folders.

Internet Explorer (IE) 7.0 simplifies the ability to use tabs and also the ability to find and store RSS feeds. Tabs can be viewed visually as thumbnails and saved to the IE favorites menu, while Explorer will automatically discover and list RSS feeds on a web page.

The biggest break-through in Office 12, due in the Windows Vista "time-frame" next year, is the ability to access many of the suite's existing features. Office 12 reveals features such as drawing charts in Excel or turning bullet points in PowerPoint into graphics, through a series of icons and so-called galleries.

Gates used the demonstration to drum up developer support for Windows Vista and Office 12. He encouraged developers to build their own Gadgets and galleries, while also unveiling the Language Integrated Query (LINQ) Project that simplifies the ability for developers to access data-based services.

LINQ provides a series of extensions to Microsoft's C# and Visual Basic and a unified programming model to query objects, database and XML without having to use other languages such as Structured Query Language (SQL).

For Gates, Windows Vista and Office 12 are the fruition of five years' development work by Microsoft putting XML into the core of its architecture. That kicked off at PDC in 2000 when Gates announced .NET, and was followed up in 2003 when Gates officially announced Longhorn at that year's PDC in Los Angeles, California.

That year, he promised Longhorn would be Microsoft's biggest release of the decade, the equivalent of Windows 95 eight years earlier. But mbitious plans for Longhorn were scaled back in 2004 as the operating system's WinFS storage subsystem - called "the Holy Grail" by Gates in 2003 - became a client-only architecture, to help Microsoft actually deliver the delayed operating system.

Additionally, it was decided the web services communications layer and XML interface architecture would be made available for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.

Casting his eye to the future and a restored storage vision for WinFS, Gates today proclaimd: "The deep idea of schematized information, rich links and information will come as WinFS comes out on both [the] client and server." This is Microsoft's "next ambitious" project, he said. ®

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