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Gates Kicks Off 'Longhorn' Generation

Bill Gates kicked off the "Longhorn" generation of products in his Los Angeles keynote speech at the Professional Developers Conference, one of the most hotly anticipated Microsoft conferences in years.

"Well, welcome to the Longhorn PDC," Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect told the Los Angeles crowd on Monday morning. A record 7,000 people signed up for the show, although it was unclear how many had to cancel attendance or delay their arrival due to wildfires that shut down southern California airports for much of Sunday afternoon.

Most of the anticipation for the PDC comes because the conference marks the first time Microsoft is giving out details about its plans for Longhorn, the next version of Windows. Previously, Microsoft has dribbled out bits of information about the operating system in one-on-one interviews and in not-for-attribution comments with individual reporters.

A large part of the conference is also dedicated to two other unreleased products. Eric Rudder, senior vice president for servers and tools, was set to give a keynote on Tuesday about "Whidbey," the next version of Visual Studio. Gordon Mangione, corporate vice president for the SQL Server team, is scheduled to follow up with a talk about "Yukon," the next release of SQL Server. Microsoft also planned many sessions near the end of the conference to help the developers in attendance write secure code.

Gates at PDC
Gates introduces Longhorn at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference. Source: Microsoft.

But the show is primarily the Longhorn debut. "I mean, honestly, we've shown Longhorn to [almost] no one before today -- just a few sets of people, like the ISVs here, to get their feedback," said group vice president for platforms, Jim Allchin, during a keynote on Monday following Gates'. Leaked builds and screenshots of Longhorn have appeared on the Internet, but in addition to its first public demos of the product Monday, Microsoft gave CDs with the first official developer preview of the operating system to attendees.

Gates positioned Longhorn as a huge operating system release for Microsoft. "This is going to be a very big release -- the biggest release of this decade, the biggest since Windows 95," Gates declared.

That emphasis on Longhorn helps explain why Microsoft is putting out so much information at this stage of the development cycle. "We've never shared bits this early," Allchin said. While the operating system is relatively late by Microsoft client standards as Windows XP shipped two years ago, it is early in the cycle by the standard of when Microsoft plans to release Longhorn.

Neither Gates nor Allchin mentioned 2005, which Microsoft officials have named earlier as the year when Longhorn would ship. The company has since backed away from that date. Allchin, an engineer by background who is normally reluctant to publicly state ship dates, stayed true to form on Monday. "In the summer time, and second half of the year, we'll be coming out with a 64-bit edition [of Windows XP] for AMD, as well as Longhorn Beta 1," Allchin said. "We're not going to make other commitments about when we're going to get done with this product."

Gates added fuel to industry speculation that Microsoft has already adjusted its internal schedule to a 2006 delivery in a segment of his talk about the history and future of the PC. Winding up the segment, Gates said: "So the personal computer in less than three years will be a pretty phenomenal device."

While a on-again, off-again server version of Longhorn is currently on again, it will be on a separate development schedule, Allchin said. "I'm only going to get into the client schedule," he said. Microsoft would like to release the client and server versions around the same time.

The operating system has grown quite a bit from its original billing as sort of a stopgap release between Windows XP and a more significant "Blackcomb version. Longhorn now anchors a wave of products. The technologies developed for Longhorn will reach into Microsoft's development tools and applications. Among Longhorn technologies unveiled or significantly fleshed out on Monday were:

  • WinFX, a new application programming model for Longhorn;
  • WinFS, the highly anticipated new storage subsystem coming in Longhorn;
  • "Avalon," the graphics subsystem in Windows and a foundation for the Longhorn shell;
  • "Aero," the next generation graphical user interface;
  • "Indigo," which Microsoft bills as a more integrated approach for building and running connected systems built around Web services; and
  • Next Generation Secure Computing Base ("Palladium"), the joint project with hardware vendors to fuse the hardware and software for more secure systems that can be more easily and definitively authenticated.

    Check back later in the week for an in-depth look into the technical details released about Longhorn.

  • About the Author

    Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.