As expected, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates opened the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) 2005 Monday morning with a keynote address that highlighted first the x64 versions of Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP, then Longhorn, the next Windows version. I outlined most of Gates's announcements in my WinHEC preview. Today, I'd like to discuss some other information that he and other Microsoft executives shared during the first day of WinHEC.

Regarding the emergence of 64-bit mainstream computing, Gates humorously noted that he never claimed that 640KB would be "enough for anyone." However, he did say that the massive memory address spaces allowed by the x64 platform would be enough for years and years. "Eventually, of course, some application will come along that needs more \[RAM than x64 offers\]," he noted. He pledged that Microsoft would support the x64 platform with 64-bit versions of Microsoft SQL Server 2005, Visual Studio 2005, Commerce Server 2006, Host Integration Server 2006, BizTalk Server 2006, and Services for UNIX this year, and with 64-bit versions of Windows Longhorn Server, Exchange 12, Microsoft Operations Manager, Virtual Server, and Windows Server Compute Cluster Edition in the next 2 years.

Gates put the migration to 64-bit computing into perspective by discussing the transitions to 16-bit and 32-bit computing that took place in the 1980s and 1990s, respectively. But the transition to 64-bit computing, he said, would actually be easier than previous transitions because of the binary compatibility between 32-bit x86 applications and the x64 platform.

Although I had been apprised of the mobile hardware announcements Gates would make at the show, two things surprised me. First, the screens used by many auxiliary displays on Longhorn-era notebook computers and Tablet PCs will be color and will closely resemble the displays on Windows Mobile devices. Second, Gates referred to the 9-inch Tablet PC-like device as "Ultra Mobile 2007"; other executives later revealed that the device is code-named Haiku.

Also new was word that the legacy Win32 API would be augmented with Longhorn features so that developers can add these features more easily to legacy applications. Previously, Microsoft said that the Longhorn features would be available only through the managed code WinFX APIs.

Although interesting, the Longhorn demonstrations that Gates and others provided were visually unimpressive, falling short of the graphical excellence found today in Apple Computer's Mac OS X. However, various Microsoft representatives told me that the Aero Glass UI demonstrated during the keynote wasn't the final user experience and that later beta releases would look dramatically nicer. Still, the Aero Glass interface that Gates demonstrated supported OS X-like transparencies, translucencies, animations, and other effects. Gates also showed off application scaling, which will help legacy applications display correctly on the high-dpi displays of the future, and a media-oriented sample application that takes advantage of Longhorn's display features.

Longhorn will feature a search box directly in the Start menu because that's where people start doing things in Windows, according to Microsoft. Longhorn will support virtual folders that collect links to documents into logical groups. For example, Longhorn will ship with default virtual folders called All Documents, Authors, Keywords, Rating, Recent, and Types.

Longhorn's icons will be particularly impressive. Because they are based on raster graphics technology and not bitmaps, they scale correctly to any resolution. They also display in a special thumbnail mode that graphically shows the contents of each file. So, for example, the icon for a Word document in Longhorn displays a miniature version of the first page of that document and a Microsoft PowerPoint slide show icon displays the first slide. Even folder icons appear to contain the actual files that reside in the folder.

In a separate address, Microsoft Senior Vice President Will Poole, who oversees the company's Windows Client Business division, discussed various Longhorn features. In addition to discussing Longhorn's Limited user account security functionality, which I initially revealed in my "Road to Windows Longhorn 2005" showcase on the SuperSite for Windows (http://www.winsupersite.com/article/showcase/the-road-to-windows-longhorn-2005.aspx), Poole talked about how a "virtual registry" feature will provide backward compatibility with legacy applications in the new environment. And he revealed that the game controllers for the next-generation Xbox 2 will be Longhorn compatible, providing a single controller for both video game consoles and PCs.


Both Gates and Poole discussed the new Longhorn timeline, although each presentation provided unique information. The new timeline places the final delivery of the product some 6 months later than previously expected. Under the new schedule, Microsoft will deliver Longhorn Beta 1 this summer, then ship a second Developer Preview build in September at the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) 2005. After that, the company will ship Beta 2 and release a public beta. Microsoft says it will ship Longhorn in time for the 2006 holiday selling season, which places the final release in the August 2006 to November 2006 time frame. Poole said that Microsoft would lock down the Longhorn Fundamentals in Beta 1; lock down the APIs in the second developer preview build, which will ship at PDC 2005; and finalize the end-user features in Beta 2.

 

If you're interested in more timely WinHEC 2005 updates, you'll find them at both the WinInfo Daily UPDATE Web site  and the SuperSite for Windows, which I update each day. The WinInfo site includes daily blog postings; the SuperSite includes photo and screenshot galleries and other updates.