Will Longhorn Deliver?

May 19, 2005

Steven Warren

The trend for Microsoft releases lately has been lots of glamour and very little content. Many of us in the IT community are likely expecting more of the same of Longhorn, Microsoft's next major operating system (OS) release.

Well, this time we couldn't be more wrong. Longhorn will be so much more than a Windows XP service pack 3 and the timing couldn't be more crucial for Microsoft.

Mounting pressure from open-source movements and some recent cutbacks from proposed Longhorn functionality are giving Linux increased momentum. To keep the predators at bay, Microsoft must have a very successful release.

With Microsoft preparing the next version of Windows desktop to be launched in fourth-quarter 2006, a lot is riding on this release for the Redmond Giant. The public wants a substantial release. If Microsoft plans to remain the No.1 operating system, they must deliver.

So what can we expect to see in this new release?

The most significant thing Microsoft proposes to deliver with Longhorn is the introduction of next generation secure computing base (NGSCB) originally named Palladium. The first delivery of this technology will be a hardware-based security feature in Longhorn called Secure Startup.

This type of security will allow you to encrypt and lock down your entire computer from software to hardware. For example, if you had your laptop stolen at the airport, this technology would prevent a criminal from finding out what is on your laptop.

As an IT manager or CIO, this technology alone should warrant a deeper look as the benefits could be endless.

Longhorn will also continue to focus and improve on security. Microsoft wants this release to meet with as much (or more) success as Windows XP Service Pack 2 did. Sources on the Internet say that Longhorn may have an inbound and outbound firewall with ability to filter on it as well.

Microsoft also promises a new event system and a reduction in the number of reboots necessary with system updates. (I know what you're thinking: 'Hey, didn't I hear that with windows 2000?').

Furthermore, we can expect an operating system that will be native IP Version 6 (IPV-6) so that the operating system is ready for IPV-6 when the customer is ready.

One of the most talked about features of Longhorn is the new WinFS (Windows future storage) files system. This technology will manage data on a computer via a relational database and will revolutionize the way we search for information.

Unfortunately, due to the possibility of missing the release date, this major feature has been removed.

Once this news hit the public, many people said and thought there would be no way Microsoft would be able to deliver a release worthy enough for customers to upgrade: I am here to tell you that this release will matter and will be big. But how this release will make its impact is yet to be seen.

Will Microsoft bring on the substantial release they need at this critical time? Or will one more content-weak release be the crack in the stronghold that allows open source, or Linux more specifically, to gain the upper hand?

If in fact WinFS file system was the backbone of Longhorn's upcoming release, the loss of this core could rattle the loyalty of corporate Windows users, and the Linux desktop may hit more corporate desks.

Why Linux? Well, Linux is popular. Licensing for Linux is less expensive than Microsoft. Linux has always been very secure. There are dozens of Linux distributions to choose from. And many of Linux's features are cutting edge and have arrived earlier than similar features on Microsoft products.

For example, it took roughly three years for a secure and reliable release from Windows XP Professional. This release was Microsoft's most secure release to date and included many security fixes, better protection with Internet Explorer, and a firewall.

But many versions of Linux were bundling these security features well before XP SP2. The carrot is there to entice Microsoft customers, and another disappointing release may just give Linux the bigger carrot.

Some of the buzz that I am hearing is that the next release of KDE, a Linux graphical desktop environment, will be based on the Xandros graphical user interface (GUI) and may incorporate a Google type control panel to search local content.

This is similar in functionality to the much talked about WinFS, but appears to be coming to the IT community much earlier than the Microsoft version. As unlikely as it seems, this Microsoft setback may allow Linux to rise to the top.

Linux and the open source movement are moving in on Windows more and more each day. The more insecure the future of Windows looks, the more Linux and the open source movement can offer alternatives that deliver and may even surpass the expectations of Longhorn.

As you can see, a lot is riding on Microsoft with this next release. I believe their future relies on a successful release packed with great features while maintaining security.

If they fail, that crack in the stronghold may open into a floodgate for the outflow of market share that Microsoft may lose. In the mean time, I wait with high expectations.

Steven Warren is an IT consultant for the Ultimate Software Group and a freelance technical writer who has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic, TechProGuild, CNET, ZDNET, and, now, CIO Update. He has a forthcoming 'how-to' book on VMware Workstation and holds the following certifications: MCDBA, MCSE, MCSA, CCA, CIW-SA, CIW-MA, Network+, and i-Net+.


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