Development of Longhorn

In 2000, Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft,
announced that the successor to the forthcoming Whistler operating systemlater
renamed as Windows XPwould be a new OS codenamed Blackcomb. A year later,
however, just a few months before the release of XP, Microsoft announced a
change of plans: Blackcomb would come much later than expected, and between XP
and Blackcomb, probably around 2003, we'd see a minor update codenamed Longhorn.

However, Microsoft's approach to Longhorn soon began to change. By the time
the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) rolled around in mid-2003,
Microsoft was describing Longhorn as a "huge, big, bet-the-company move."
Windows XP was being kept current with new updates, including Windows XP Service
Pack 2, and new versions of Windows XP Tablet PC Edition and Windows XP Media
Center Edition.

Meanwhile, Longhorn gradually began to accumulate new features that had
originally been intended for Blackcomb. By the summer of 2004, Microsoft
realized that Longhorn had become the next major Windows OS, so the company
revamped the entire Longhorn development process and more or less started the
whole thing from scratch. This delayed the release of Longhorn, of course, and
the dates kept getting pushed out: to 2005, then to early 2006, and finally to
later in 2006. (Microsoft has said that Vista's code will ship to business
customers in November, 2006 and will be in the retail channel in January, 2007.
As I write this, rumors are swirling that Vista might be delayed yet again,
depending on the feedback Microsoft gets from the legions of Beta 2 testers.)

But it wasn't just a revamped development process that was delaying Longhorn.
In conferences, demos, and meetings with hardware vendors, developers, and
customers, Microsoft had described the new OS and features in the most glowing
terms imaginable. This had become a seriously ambitious project that was going
to require an equally serious commitment of resources and, crucially, time to
make the promises a reality.

Unfortunately, time was the one thing that Microsoft didn't have a lot of.
Yes, XP was a fine OS and was being kept fresh with updates, but even a 2006
ship date for Longhorn meant an unprecedented five years between major OS
releases. Not even mighty Microsoft could afford to keep XP in the channel any
longer than that.

In other words, Longhorn had to be complete in 2006 even if it doesn't reach
retail shelves until early 2007. Microsoft briefly considered an interim version
of Windows that would ship between Windows XP Service Pack 2 and Longhorn. (This
stopgap release was codenamed Oasis, but some wags dubbed it Shorthorn.)

The codename Longhorn was finally retired when Microsoft announced on July
22, 2005, that the new OS would be called Windows Vista. Why Vista? Because,
according to one Microsoft spokesperson, the new OS is "about providing clarity
to your world and giving focus to the things that are important to you," and it
"provides your view of the world." That sounds like a lot of marketing hoo-ha to
my ears, but it's true that Vista does offer some new features that enable you
to view your documents in radically new ways (radical for Windows, that is).

To give just one example, you can run a local search right from the Start
menu. The resulting window displays a list of all the filesdocuments, email
messages, music files, images, and morethat contain the search term. You can
then save the results as a search folder. The next time you open the search
folder, Vista shows not only the files from the original search, but also any
new files you've created that include the search term.

But what of all those fancy new technologies that promised to rock the
Windows world? Well, there was simply no way to include all of those features
and ship Vista in 2006. Reluctantly, Microsoft had to start dropping features
from Vista.

The first major piece to land in the Recycle Bin was Windows Future Storage
(WinFS), a SQL Serverbased file system designed to run on top of NTFS and to
make it easier to navigate and find documents. WinFS will ship separately after
Windows Vista, although as you'll see in this book, some features of WinFS did
make it into Vista.

Microsoft also removed the Windows PowerShell (codenamed Monad and also
called the Windows Command Shell or Microsoft Command Shell), a .NET-based
command-line scripting language. (However, PowerShell is undergoing a separate
beta cycle as I write this, and it's expected to be released around the same
time as Vista.)

Microsoft also "decoupled" some important technologies from Vista, which
meant that these technologies developed separately and would be released for
Vista and "backported" to run on Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. Two major
technologies are being backported:

  • A new graphics architecture and application programming interface that
    was code-named Avalon and is now called Windows Presentation Foundation
  • A new programming platform for building, configuring, and deploying
    network-distributed services, codenamed Indigo and now called Windows
    Communications Foundation (WCF)

In both cases, it doesn't mean that Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 will
suddenly look and feel like Windows Vista after you install WPF and WCF.
Instead, it means that the older operating systems will be capable of running
any applications that use WPF and WCF code. This gives developers more incentive
to build applications around these technologies because it ensures a much larger
user base than they would otherwise have if WPF and WCF ran only on Vista

Finally, there are also several Vista tools that will be XP "down-level"
tools. This means they will be made available as XP downloads, although without
certain features that you get in the Vista versions.

  • Internet Explorer 7 The XP version doesn't come with Protected Mode or
    Parental Control.
  • Windows Defender On XP, scan times will be slower because XP doesn't
    track file changes the way Vista does.
  • Media Player 11 The XP version won't play content from another PC or
    device; it won't view content from a Vista Media Library; it won't integrate
    with the Windows shell; and it won't have Vista's advanced DVD playback

The upshot of these deletions, backports, and down-level tools is that Vista
is not quite as compelling of a release as it was once touted to be, but there
are still plenty of new improvements to make it worth your time.