Windows Longhorn First Take
After the release of Windows XP Professional x64 on April 25, 2005, Microsoft's next major upgrade to the Windows family will be the much-anticipated release of Windows Longhorn.
The new Windows OS will feature Avalon, a new graphics and presentation engine, and Indigo, a Web services and communication architecture. Longhorn will be available in 32-bit and 64-bit editions, since 64-bit-enabled hardware has only just started shipping from both AMD and Intel. Initial betas of the operating system are expected in the summer of 2005, with the final release set for late 2006.
Upside: Like Windows XP, Longhorn will offer a choice of interfaces, such as the current Windows XP look and feel or the fancy new Aero Glass interface, in which translucent windows come to life when maximized or opened. Icons will show the contents of a file, such as the first page of text, rather than the Microsoft Word logo.
Longhorn offers a faster start-up for laptops, with an option to display a calendar or play music without booting the entire OS. Other changes will make it easier for laptop users to access networks at home or at work, yet be protected when connecting to public Wi-Fi. You will also be able to tailor the operating system to remember your preferences when watching a DVD, such as always displaying the image at full screen.
Networking capabilities are still under development; however, Microsoft is striving to make it easier for businesses to install custom-corporate versions of Longhorn on fleets of machines. For home users, Longhorn promises to make file sharing easier, perhaps displaying all music and digital image files together, even if the individual files reside on different machines within the home network.
Finally, there are security enhancements worth waiting for. Microsoft says Windows Longhorn computers will run at the least-possible permission level, as opposed to the all-access administration level now used in Windows XP. The Longhorn version of Internet Explorer will also lessen access given to external Web sites. Both, in addition to hardening the file system to buffer overflow attacks, should reduce the number of malicious attacks by criminal hackers. Toward that end, Microsoft has not announced whether it will bundle its new antivirus protection software with Longhorn or provide it separately.
Downside: As with any new OS, there are increased hardware requirements, which may be beyond most current Windows users. While not nailed down, Microsoft says that Windows Longhorn is likely to require at least 512MB of RAM, a recent microprocessor, and the latest graphics card for all of the features to work properly. There are no plans at this time to make a Media Center or Tablet PC edition of Longhorn.
Outlook: Most people will probably wait until they purchase a new PC to get their copy of Windows Longhorn, so that the hardware and the operating system sync properly. Microsoft admits that it's not expecting people to camp out overnight to get their hands on Windows Longhorn when it becomes available late in 2006. Check back for more details as Longhorn moves toward completion. We'll have a full review once it's available.