This week's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) 2003 trade show in New Orleans will mark the first public preview of Longhorn, the next Windows desktop version. Long steeped in mystery, Longhorn will be the first major new version of Windows since Windows 95, when Microsoft began to break its ties with the DOS-based past and moved consumers into 32-bit computing. Longhorn will be an equally important milestone for the software giant's customers, as it will mark the first time since Win95 that each of Microsoft's three core markets--consumers, business users, and developers--will see major changes in the same Windows release. The two most recent releases--Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP--provided major changes for consumers and businesses only.

Of course, Longhorn is still largely an unknown, despite recent leaks of early alpha builds (see the URL below for my recent Longhorn preview). The product will feature a photo-realistic, video-based layer on top of the standard Windows GUI and will provide 3-D rendering technology for all the objects and widgets that make up the Longhorn UI. Another key feature--a Microsoft SQL Server-based file system called Windows Future Storage (WinFS)--began life as Storage+, part of a trio of technologies (along with Forms+--now Windows Forms--and COM+) that the company first touted several years ago. In many ways, Microsoft has been working toward Longhorn since the company formulated (and then subsequently dropped) plans for a Windows NT successor, code-named Cairo, in the mid-1990s.

But this week, WinHEC will provide a more concrete, down-to-the-metal view of Longhorn, with overviews of the product's core hardware technologies. WinHEC attendees can choose from sessions about the following Longhorn technologies:

   - Longhorn drivers--This session with examine Microsoft's vision for the new Driver Development Kit (DDK) and Hardware Compatibility Test (HCT) kits that will accompany the next Windows version.

   - Longhorn audio/video experience--Microsoft says audio and video devices in the next Windows version will be easier to work with, for both users and developers. This session will detail the Windows-platform and device-UI enhancements that will make it easier for users to set up, test, configure, and improve their experiences with speakers, microphones, sound cards, video, and TV tuner cards. The session will touch on topics such as audio/video (AV) device installation, setup, configuration wizards and Control Panels, Windows Volume Control and application mixing, and an overview of Longhorn's new Audio Video Preferences Control Panel.

   - Longhorn display convergence--This session will discuss ways Longhorn will improve the out-of-the-box experience with "convergence PCs" (i.e., PCs based on Windows Media Center or similarly targeted Windows-based products). The session will include information about a new Longhorn Signature Monitor, which will help OEMs create display panels that are equally viable for AV applications and business uses, and the XP Media Center Edition Display Calibration Wizard, which helps deliver PC solutions through a television.

   - Longhorn display platform and color management--This look at Longhorn's color-management architecture will highlight the product's new display innovations, which will apply to medical imaging, professional photography, enterprise printing, and other real-world scenarios.

   - Longhorn manufacturing--This session will offer a guide to the new and exciting features that Microsoft has planned for the Longhorn Deployment Toolkit (also known as the Longhorn OEM Preinstallation Kit--OPK). This session will detail the ways Microsoft will streamline Longhorn installation.

   - Designing portable media players for Longhorn--In a bid to offer users a more integrated experience when working with portable media players, Microsoft is creating a new set of standards for interacting with Longhorn. This session will detail those features, which include simplified device installation, new wire protocols for device communications, and remote playback of AV content from a Longhorn-based PC.

   - Longhorn graphics drivers--Longhorn will take full advantage of the massive amounts of 3-D rendering power in many users' PC video cards, giving users a more stable and feature-rich experience. This session will focus on the changes Microsoft is making to the Windows display infrastructure to enable this new functionality, as well as some changes in common display scenarios.

   - Longhorn hardware-accelerated graphics and desktop composition--This session will cover new hardware requirements for Longhorn desktop composition, including Microsoft's plans to hardware-accelerate 2-D graphics, 3-D graphics, and imaging in Windows applications and on the Windows desktop. The session will also discuss the requirements for enabling hardware-accelerated ClearType text rendering in Longhorn.

In addition to this detailed Longhorn information, Microsoft will also provide a first look at several other technologies, including future Windows Media Center versions, Real-Time Communications (RTC) Server (code-named Greenwich), Windows CE .NET 4.2, and the Next Generation Secure Computing Base (NGSCB) technologies (formerly known as Palladium).

"Longhorn Alpha Preview 3: Build 4015"