Because Microsoft wants to maintain its competitive advantage during the next 2 years while the company preps Windows Longhorn for release, Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) 2003 attendees won't get the code for Aero, Longhorn's exciting and innovative GUI. Instead, attendees will receive a special Longhorn build that has the Aero bits removed, and Microsoft executives will provide only a special demonstration preview of Aero during Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates's keynote address. I've now verified these plans with several sources at and close to Microsoft.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

   "\[Until early September\] Microsoft wasn't sure whether it would just demo Aero or supply it to PDC attendees," one source told me recently. Microsoft made the decision to demonstrate Aero only because of the long delay between PDC 2003 and Longhorn's final release, which is set for late 2005. If the company released all its UI work now, its OS competitors--such as Apple Computer and various companies and organizations in the Linux camp, all of which have fewer customers and faster release cycles than Microsoft--would be able to clone the Longhorn work before the OS's release. This problem has dogged Microsoft in the past, the most recent example being Apple's Expose technology, which will ship in Mac OS X 10.3 late this year. Microsoft has been demonstrating Expose-like technology for years now, but the technology won't show up in Windows until the Longhorn release at the earliest.

   Despite the absence of Aero, the code that PDC 2003 attendees will receive is intriguing. For the past several weeks, Microsoft has forked the Longhorn code to develop a special PDC build that's separate and distinct from the main code fork. This build will include virtually every Longhorn technology except Aero and will feature a new, darker theme that supplants the alpha Longhorn builds' lackluster Plex visual style. Microsoft is struggling to complete this special build in time for the show, which will be held in Los Angeles in late October. I'll provide more information about PDC 2003 and the special Longhorn build as it becomes available.