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Gates puts a face on far-away Longhorn

At the Professional Developers Conference on Monday, Bill Gates and other Microsoft executives showed off the interface for the software maker's next version of Windows, which goes by the code-name Longhorn.

LOS ANGELES -- Even though most IT shops have barely upgraded to Windows 2000, Microsoft is eagerly showing an early view of the next generation of its Windows operating system this week.

The software, code-named Longhorn, won't be available for a while, but a record crowd of nearly 8,000 applications developers attending the Professional Developers Conference 2003 were happy to get an early look at the software's interface today.

Bill Gates, Microsoft's chief software architect, described a next wave of Windows computing with unified stores, content indexing and self-organization. The ability to intermix files, e-mail and notes is something else entirely. "We need to bring it all together," he said.

"With Longhorn, we are at the beginning of this process," said Gates, who added that Longhorn will be the biggest Windows release since Windows 95.

Hillel Cooperman, a product unit manager, demonstrated the new graphical user interface and subsystem, code-named Avalon, which provides a shell from which developers can design applications. The interface includes a sidebar where common parts, such as buddy lists and RSS feeds, are stored. He demonstrated some of the organizational capabilities of the new WinFS file storage system, including the stack, which provides a dynamic view of data that is built on the fly based on structured items.

Microsoft this week is showing off many of its other next-generation technologies, including its database management software and its Web services technology. The main point is to make life easier for customers, said Brian Smith, technical leader in application development at Lucrum Inc., a Cincinnati e-business software developer.

Smith said that what Microsoft is trying to do is an extension of what it has always done: Build a suite of products, and hopefully one or more of those products will enter the enterprise. Then, Microsoft will build interdependencies on all the other products, he said.

Gates echoed comments made last week at the launch of Office 2003 in New York, saying that he believes software development opportunities will be greater in the next decade than ever before. He also said information will no longer be kept, unstructured, in data silos.

Apart from the chance to get a view of what's to come from Microsoft, Smith said that he was excited by the collaboration among the various groups within Microsoft, which he said he hasn't seen before.

"I think the result will be the creation of applications that can be coded more quickly and run faster," Smith said. "Some of this is because of faster hardware, but some of it is because of the synergies in the software."

Experts said that Microsoft still has places to prove itself, particularly in enterprises where the applications require the most stringent levels of dependability.

Jeffrey Lehmer, manager of the core components group at Accelrys Inc., a San Diego software company that builds scientific applications, said that some of his customers develop drugs. Better technology has made it possible to save money and shorten the amount of time it takes to develop drugs.

Most of his customers prefer Unix to SQL Server, and 95% run Oracle's database software. Lehmer said that, in some cases, if a database fails during an early phase of the trial, the entire trial must be repeated. "We can't say Microsoft has demonstrated that kind of dependability," he said.

Rather, Lehmer said, his company is interested in Microsoft's rich client. "Eventually, we may develop something for .NET," he said.

For IT administrators, Lehmer said, everything happening at this conference will certainly affect them in the not-too-distant future.


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