Partial preliminary feature list for Windows Longhorn beta 1 released

Redmond (WA) - UPDATE - This afternoon, in response to an inquiry regarding the included features of Longhorn Server Beta 1 (LSB1), a Microsoft spokesperson gave Tom’s Hardware Guide some initial background information regarding technologies to be represented in Longhorn Server. Later this evening, another spokesperson offered a clarification to this list, stating it would not necessarily reflect the feature set of Beta 1, but would reflect the final release edition of the new server edition of Windows, whenever that may be released.

The features list provided to us includes Network Access Protection, a new policy compliance platform currently being tested for Windows Server 2003. In addition, the list presented additional points which the new system will address. This list includes "streamlined and task-oriented management" including event logging, image-based setup, and a scalable Web application platform ; "increased infrastructure robustness" including Network Access protection and a so-called "transactional file system and registry ;" and "enhanced end user productivity," including enhancements to Terminal Server, collaboration, and cross-organizational rights management.

Although the list mentioned the "transactional file system," it noticeably omits any mention of WinFS, the reworked contextual file system whose very existence as a Microsoft project now appears in jeopardy.

Late this afternoon, a Microsoft spokesperson also confirmed that Indigo, the company’s ambitious platform for inter-application communication that would enable sophisticated Web services, remains a core component of Longhorn, adding that it "will also be made available on Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP." Last week, another Microsoft spokesperson confirmed that Indigo will operate as a Web services platform without any reliance whatsoever upon either Distributed Component Object Model (DCOM) or Internet Information Services (IIS). Historically, these components have served as the broker and server, respectively, for all Windows Web-oriented applications.

Last Wednesday, in a surprise revelation, Microsoft senior vice president Bob Muglia "let slip" to an online chat audience that LSB1 will be released this summer, in the same season as the first public beta release of the Longhorn client. Naturally, this immediately led to speculation over how many of the new technologies originally intended for Longhorn Server, will actually be represented in LSB1.

Back in October 2003, during the company’s Professional Developer’s Conference, Chairman Bill Gates unveiled a dazzling array of new features, including WinFS, which was to be built on top of a totally rebuilt SQL Server component. Also presented, along with Indigo, was a very rich graphics subsystem code-named Avalon that appeared capable of adding dimension and form - not just "skin" - to windows and on-screen devices.

But over the last few months, Microsoft has indicated that some of these services that once characterized the Longhorn Server platform, will have to wait until after the new operating system’s public release. Earlier this month, the company’s senior vice president, Bob Muglia, referred to a three- to five-year timeframe for the implementation of new services. Muglia declined to be specific, leading to rampant speculation in the press, among analysts, and on the blogs. Much of this speculation has been officially denied by Microsoft, including the dark conclusion that all these services Gates unveiled in 2003 - plus a few others, such as Microsoft Command Shell ("Monad") - would only be ready for wide implementation in 2010.

"My advice to customers is going to be to wait for a later beta," stated Mike Cherry, lead analyst for Windows and mobile technologies at Directions on Microsoft. Cherry does believe that developers for low-level applications such as device drivers and virus scanners, should find plenty in LSB1 to keep them busy. But for developers of user-level applications such as document and database systems, his advice is to wait until the next Professional Developer’s Conference (PDC) in September for any word on whether their needs will be addressed. "If I was an administrator of the client or the desktop for an organization," said Cherry, "the PDC would be the earliest that I would look. And if I was a consumer, I wouldn’t even bother until this time next year."

Last August, Microsoft brought its Indigo communications subsystem and Avalon presentation subsystem projects together, under a collective umbrella called WinFX. Last December, Microsoft announced the indefinite delay of WinFS, a new file system with an underlying contextual database engine, enabling rich content searches at the desktop level. (Since the WinFS concept was introduced, Google released its Desktop Search tools, which enable many of the same features without overhauling the file system.)

"Again, they’ve confused me by releasing a toolbar from MSN," stated Cherry, referring to a product recently released as a competitor to Google Desktop Search, which performs many of the features now that WinFS originally touted. "Why do I need anything more than that - the first version of WinFS was only going to work on the desktop anyway ?" he asked. "It wasn’t going to give me any support for files I had in a file share. How come one division of Microsoft can provide this as an add-in today, and the other division needs to re-architect the entire operating system ? Where’s the integration ?

"There’s an old rule of thumb," Cherry told us : "You can have quality, or you can have features, or you can have a closing ship date, but you can’t have all three." About the features list we were presented, Cherry commented that the list actually appears to outline goals, not features. "I do think they have raised the bar on their own quality of deliveries," Cherry admitted. Windows Server 2003, he believes, is the new standard for quality which can’t be lowered. "Time is becoming a problem for them," he added. "So the only variable they really have to play with is features. I think one of the reasons it’s hard to get a list of what are the features, the reality is, I don’t think they’ve decided."

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