Just a little more than a week before the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) 2005, Microsoft Group Vice President Jim Allchin has decided to reveal some information about Longhorn, the next-generation Windows version that has suffered from innumerable delays. Now due in mid-2006, Longhorn will be a major Windows version, not a minor update, Allchin says. "So forget the naysayers," he adds, "Longhorn is going to rock."
 

Any update about Longhorn is much appreciated. Microsoft first began touting its next-generation OS at the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in October 2003, making broad-reaching claims about the system's capabilities. Since then, the company has been mostly quiet, aside from a few announcements about delaying the product and stripping away what were previously described as key features.

Have no fears about Longhorn being a minor update, Allchin said this week. "\[Longhorn\] is not incremental," he said. "The world, in my opinion, thinks this is perhaps the next version of a service pack. It's not. It's a very big deal. There will be massive marketing. The point here is this is a big deal. \[Windows\] XP SP2 was a big deal, but this is a really big deal. We will put a lot of money and marketing emphasis behind this and work with our partners to make sure there's a lot of opportunity for them."

Allchin discussed the following Longhorn features:
 
- Instant Desktop Search. Longhorn's search feature is called Visualize and Organize and will still be included despite the removal of WinFS from the system. Instant Desktop Search will include the virtual folders functionality that Microsoft first showed at PDC 2003.
 
- SyncManager. "We'll have a SyncManager in Longhorn to simplify the sync process for phones and other machines. It's \[not ActiveSync, the PocketPC tool,\] but a new version of synchronization, a brand new system being done for Longhorn that will have a whole set of wireless support so it can run more seamlessly between work and home and understands the environment."
 
- Security. "\[Longhorn\] will be safe and secure. Safety means you help users to protect themselves: Parental controls, deciding who you can talk to and what time, being able to browse the Internet in a protected window. Those are all areas we're focusing on." Allchin also touched on Longhhorn's user privilege-level features. "Longhorn will run \[all users\] as standard users, instead of \[administrative users\]. Today, in most installs, a large majority run as admin, so everything on the machine has full rights. Longhorn will run as a standard user, with limited user rights that can't impact the operating system or the user."
 
- Mobility features. Longhorn will feature whole-volume encryption so that a lost or stolen PC won't cough up your data to thieves. And Longhorn-era laptops and Tablet PCs will feature auxiliary displays through which users can view calendar and email information on a small LCD screen, even when the device is shut down.
 
- Easy deployment. "It must be easy to deploy at home, either adding a new machine to an environment at home, or replacing a machine and migrating information from one machine to another, or at work where an IT professional is trying to deploy images or to manage systems that are in place."
 
- Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE). Longhorn will include an IE version that's much more advanced than the IE 7.0 product the company will ship for XP users later this year. The new version of IE will integrate with Longhorn's parental controls and security and isolation features.
 
- Antispyware. Longhorn will include antispyware technology but not antivirus technology, Allchin says.


Allchin also discussed the Longhorn roadmap. As previously reported, Microsoft will ship a pre-Beta 1 build of Longhorn to attendees of the WinHEC 2005 trade show that will take place the last week of April in Seattle. That preview won't include the new Aero UI, but the UI will be dramatically improved from the alpha releases the company previously shipped. Allchin noted that Microsoft will ship a beta release after PDC 2005, which will be held this September in Los Angeles. According to the most recent schedule I've seen, Longhorn Beta 1 is still due in late May 2005, while Longhorn Beta 2 is due in October 2005, right after PDC. So it's unclear whether Allchin's comments represent another delay for Beta 1.

However. Allchin did hint at something that I reported about previously. Although Microsoft plans to finalize Longhorn by May 2006, I've heard that the company might delay the release until late 2006 to coincide with the release of Microsoft Office 12. "We're still on track for shipping \[Longhorn\] by holiday 2006, so we'll be done before then," he said this week. For Microsoft, the holiday season starts in September, so presumably, Longhorn would be widely available by August or September 2006. We'll see.

I've already written about most of these features on the SuperSite for Windows. I'll update my most recent showcase, "The Road to Windows Longhorn 2005," later today with new information and some prototype screenshots.