Microsoft: Longhorn to arrive in 2005

Ending recent speculation, a Microsoft executive says Longhorn, the next major client version of Windows, will debut in 2005 with buffed-up display technology.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
4 min read
NEW ORLEANS--Longhorn, the next major version of Windows for desktop PCs, will debut in 2005 and will usher in a new level of graphics for PCs, Microsoft executives said Wednesday.

While Microsoft plans to release "a couple of beta," or test, versions of Longhorn in 2004, the final version of the operating system won't come out commercially until 2005, said Will Poole, senior vice president of the Windows Client division at Microsoft. He made the comments during a speech delivered at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) here. Previously, analysts and sources had speculated that Longhorn would come out in late 2004 or early 2005.

"The weight of the company is behind Longhorn," Poole said. "This is a huge bet for the company. It will really change the landscape of what people see."

With Longhorn, Microsoft hopes to improve the visual quality of the computing experience. Company representatives at a WinHEC demonstration of a pre-beta version of Longhorn said that the goal is to be able to run the OS on screens with a resolution of 120 dots per inch or higher.

That's far more refined than screens today. Current 17-inch SXGA displays have a resolution of about 95 dots per square inch, said Bob O'Donnell, an analyst at market research firm IDC.

More dots lead to crisper, more defined images. They can also make it easier to view high-resolution images. Increasing the resolution on a current monitor shrinks the size of the image, a phenomenon that can be observed by cranking the resolution setting in a computer's control panel to the maximum. At some top settings, text becomes almost impossible to read. With a higher overall resolution, users won't have to go to the extremes of the resolution spectrum.

"Higher isn't better, if everything gets smaller," said O'Donnell.

"When we come to Longhorn, the experience of your desktop is going to be absolutely stunning," said Jen-Hsun Huang, CEO of chip designer Nvidia, on Tuesday. More Longhorn details are expected to be released on Thursday, during technical sessions at WinHEC.

Longhorn's debut is closely tied to Microsoft's work on a new, underlying file system derived from the company's database development. That system is designed to make it easier for people to find information on PC hard drives and across networks. The software maker plans to introduce the new file system as part of Longhorn and also as part of Yukon, the code-named next version of its SQL Server database software.

Dubbed Windows Future Storage (WinFS), the file system is a new means of storing, accessing or indexing files. It would replace NTFS and FAT32, which are used by Windows XP and earlier versions of Windows.

In recent months, successively more advanced test versions of Longhorn have been leaked onto the Web, leading observers to speculate that Microsoft has stepped up its development work. Lending credence to those claims, the Redmond, Wash.-based software maker recently shipped Windows Server 2003, the server counterpart to Longhorn, which could free up its internal developers to concentrate on Longhorn.

Longhorn: Graphically speaking
Also on Wednesday, Microsoft representatives showed off an early test version of Longhorn with an applet (a small program that can be downloaded quickly and used by a computer with a Web browser) that lets applications shrink proportionally on the screen. In the applet, two identical electronic calculators were displayed, but one was noticeably larger than the other. The smaller calculator, however, was identical, proportionally, to the larger one. In Windows PCs today, only similar applications at the same resolution are identical.

The applet, however, remains under development, said company representatives. The difficulty in development of the applet, they said, is in coming up with a way to allow the mouse to shift between applications of different resolutions.

On top of this, Longhorn is intended to continue Microsoft's strategy of making the PC the nerve center of the home entertainment network. As expected, the company demonstrated new technologies at WinHEC to push that strategy with current versions of Windows.

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A set-top box codeveloped by Microsoft and ATI Technologies, for instance, allows users to view on a TV monitor pictures or video stored on a PC. While this is possible with current technology, people have to lug a PC to the living room and wire it to a TV to do it.

"The average American housewife is not going to let someone bring a minitower into the living room," said Mark Vena, a director at Dell Computer said in an interview last week, explaining why Dell has yet to release a media center PC.

The ATI-Microsoft set-top box, which runs the Windows CE .Net operating system, is connected to a television and ferries data back and forth between the television and a PC.

Microsoft also formally unveiled a media transport protocol, which makes it easier to swap files, and its Universal Audio Architecture, a set of drivers that will simplify the process of hooking up a PC to audio devices.

In the end, such improvements in function and usability could spark a cycle of purchases, analysts said.

"The problem we need to look at is: Why is it that consumers and business customers of all kinds feel what they have is good enough?" said Poole.

Between now and the release of Longhorn, Microsoft will continue to tweak its existing operating systems, Poole said. In addition, a new version of its handwriting recognition engine will come out for Tablet PC, he added. And a European version of Windows XP Media Center with better TV programming data will also emerge.

Overall, though, there won't be a major code retrofit. "Don't expect an interim release," of Windows before Longhorn, Poole said.