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Whidbey to Longhorn: PDC a Satisfying Tease

Take your pick of the code names: Microsoft had some delightful carrots this week for every developer imaginable.




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os Angeles—Microsoft rolled out a superabundance of new technology at the Professional Developer's Conference (PDC) in Los Angles this week—so much new technology that it's difficult to determine which of the various new capabilities developers should pay immediate attention to.

In the foreground: Whidbey, the 2004 release version of Visual Studio.NET, with major enhancements not only to its primary patron languages, but UI and functionality improvements to the IDE itself, which Microsoft product managers promise will increase the productivity of the typical developer by 50 percent.

On the horizon: Longhorn, the next version of Windows, with a 64-bit file system, a Web services management framework, and a graphical user interface that is bound to impress even the most stoic developer at least a little bit.

And somewhere in between is Yukon, which will bring more powerful business intelligence and data analytics to SQL Server developers, as well as a more productive user interface, and built-in support for Web service-based transactions.

And here in Los Angeles: At least 5,000 developers, juggling nearly a dozen code names and struggling to absorb a complex and insular, but promising future for the Windows developer.

Longhorn: A Better File System
While coders are already coveting Whidbey, which, among many other things, will finally bring edit-and-continue back to Visual Basic, the most exciting demonstrations centered around Longhorn. The Windows versions you're using now marks the end of Win32 as the dominant Windows API. Longhorn uses WinFX, a larger and richer API. Fundamental changes to the OS extend to the similarly named WinFS—a new file system based on the tried-and-tested NTFS file system, but that extends it to fulfill three key functions, said Senior Vice President Eric Rudder: Find, Relate, and Act.

Find—Includes schemas that make it easier to locate data.
Relate—Reveals relationships between data.
Act—Utilizes agents to act on your behalf in communicating with the file system.

In Longhorn, ALL users' data will make its way into the file system—not just files, but contacts, objects, multimedia, etc.—where they are referred to generically as items. WinFS allows items to be attributed with metadata, which is used to make deep associations between them. From a user experience perspective, this metadata association is used to dynamically discover related data. WinFS is better than anything that's come before it for searching and sorting. Users can find related data by, say, customer name, project name, location—basically any characteristic they can think of. Creating associations between items is done on the fly via drag and drop data binding. Avalon, the codename for the Longhorn UI, adds some nice features such as mouseover highlighting on associated files and animated, dynamically generated semantic views of related data.

WinFS also lets users perform natural language searches that can execute advanced associative queries. For example, in the demonstration WinFS was able to find documents of a certain type that mentioned sums of about $1.6 million.

Avalon: Vector-based GUI
As with Windows XP before it, the graphical UI for Longhorn is impressive at first blush—and probably well beyond. But even if it were to look exactly the same, Avalon is a huge improvement to Windows because it is vector-based. As Flash developers have long known, vector graphics are faster, more scalable, and have lower overhead than traditional bitmap-based graphics.

Avalon includes a handful of features that cannot be categorized as merely slick-looking, though they are that. For example, scrollbars in Longhorn can be moused over to provide a preview of any page in your document. The preview pops up as a semi-transparent thumbnail next to its region on the scrollbar—and it retains any embedded multimedia in your documents.

The Longhorn desktop uses a "sidebar," which is used as a holder for things the user needs to have handy, such as an integrated IM buddy list, recently used files, and an integrated RSS feed; users can drag and drop items onto the sidebar as they wish. Longhorn also adds real-time collaboration features that allow trusted users to push live images from their machines onto another.

Indigo: Enterprise Service Framework
The third major arm of Longhorn is Indigo, a secure framework for Web services that is capable of supporting transactional data. Indigo lets you build Web services that span multiple transports, handle various encodings, and work across multiple network topologies. One of its most important capabilities is to expose functionality from older systems built on COM+ and MSMQ through Indigo without modifying existing code. For enterprises where interoperability and data integration have become high-priority headaches, Indigo will be compelling. And it gives existing Microsoft customers an easy path to service-oriented applications.

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