This week's Windows Hardware Engineering (WinHEC) 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 Windows 95 that each of Microsoft's three core markets - consumers, business users, and developers - will see major changes in Windows. The last two releases - Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP - provided major changes for just consumers and businesses, respectively.
Of course, Longhorn is still largely a mystery, despite recent leaks of early alpha builds. The product will feature a photo-realistic, video-based layer on top of the standard Windows GUI that will provide 3D rendering technology for all of the objects and widgets that make up the Longhorn user interface. Another key feature, a SQL Server-based file system called WinFS (Windows Future Storage), 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 it 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. Microsoft will provide WinHEC attendees with sessions on the following Longhorn technologies:
Longhorn drivers - A look at 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 will be easier to work with, for both users and developers, in the next Windows version, and this session will detail enhancements to both the Windows platform and device user interfaces 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 goal in Longhorn is that AV devices will "just work," and this session will touch on topics such as AV device installation, setup, configuration wizards and Control Panels, Windows Volume Control and Application mixing, and an overview of the new Audio Video Preferences Control Panel in Longhorn.
Longhorn display convergence - This session will discuss ways in which Longhorn will improve the out-of-the-box experience with "convergence PCs" (that is, PCs based on Windows Media Center or similarly targeted Windows-based products), and will include information about a new Longhorn Signature Monitor, which will help OEMs create display panels that are equally viable for audio/video applications and business uses; and the XP Media Center Edition Display Calibration Wizard, which helps deliver PC solutions via the television.
Longhorn display platform and color management - This look at the color management architecture in Longhorn will highlight the product's new display innovations that will address medical imaging, professional photography, enterprise printing, and other real-world scenarios.
Manufacturing with Longhorn - A guide to new and exciting features Microsoft has planned for the Windows Longhorn Deployment Toolkit (also known as the Longhorn OEM Preinstallation Kit, or OPK), this session will detail the ways in which Microsoft streamlined Longhorn installation by componentizing the product and working with new imaging technologies.
Designing portable media players for Windows 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.
Graphics drivers for Windows Longhorn - Longhorn will fully take advantage of the massive amounts of 3D rendering power many users now have in their PC's video cards, providing users with 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.
Hardware accelerated graphics and desktop composition in Longhorn - This session will cover new hardware requirements for Longhorn desktop composition, including Microsoft's plans to hardware accelerate 2D graphics, imaging, and 3D graphics in Windows applications and on the Windows desktop. Additionally, the session will discuss the requirements necessary to enable hardware accelerated ClearType text rendering in Longhorn.
In addition to the detailed Longhorn information, Microsoft is also providing a first look at a number of other technologies at the show, including future Windows Media Center versions, Real-Time Communications Server, Windows CE .NET 4.2, and the Next Generation Secure Computing Base (NGSCB) technologies formerly known as Palladium.