By now you've heard that in order to make its self-imposed release deadline of late 2006, Microsoft has pulled from Longhorn most of what it originally called the key pillars of the new operating system: a presentation engine called Avalon, a Web services architecture called Indigo, and a reworked file system called WinFS. (All three are still in the works but will be released separately from Longhorn.) As such, many folks may be wondering what really outstanding new features and improvements Longhorn will bring to the table. Well, based on the publicly available information about the operating system there's actually quite a lot of cool new stuff in Longhorn.
And there's even more to come! During a Longhorn demo at WinHec 2005, Bill Gates alluded to the fact that more than half of all the new features and improvements in the new operating system are still secret.
Now, of all the Longhorn features that we know of so far, the Aero Glass user interface seems to be garnering the most points in the "cool new feature" category. However, beyond Aero flashy animated graphics and transparency effects are a whole set of new and improved data and file management features that are destined to make everyday computing in Longhorn much easier. Microsoft has loosely grouped this set of features as Longhorn's new information visualization, organization, and search features.
According to Microsoft, location based storage is starting to show its age and I'm sure all of us with multi-gigabyte hard disks will agree with this point. The problem with location based storage is that the amount of data we have access to these days can fill up a hard disk faster than we can keep it organized. Not only is it easier to generate data with today's super efficient applications, but with the advent of the Internet and broadband access, we can download bucket loads of data in a matter of minutes.
Of course, you can create folders and subfolders and even more subfolders in an attempt to keep your data organized, but that usually results in some form of Miscellaneous category folders in which you dump stuff that doesn't fit into your organizational scheme. And ultimately, you can't seem to find what you're looking for via a manual scan and then turn to your operating system's Search tool, which seems to take an inordinate amount of time to probe the recesses of your hard disk. To relieve us of these types of data management nightmares, Microsoft is crafting into Longhorn new ways of keeping track of our files.
In the organization category, Longhorn will automatically arrange your data files with a virtual folder technology that transcends the lines drawn by the physical folder structure on a hard disk and allows you to instantly scan through your data files in a multitude of default and customized views. These virtual folders will group files based on the default properties assigned to each file such as author or customizable properties based on keywords that you assign. In fact, you can alter a file's properties simply by dragging the iconic representation of the file from one virtual folder to another. And best of all, files can be simultaneously connected to multiple virtual folders based on the file's properties. Thus, no matter how much, or how little, you remember about a file, you'll be able to find it in at least one of your virtual folders.
You can see an example of the virtual folders feature in this Longhorn screenshot on the WindowsLonghorn.net Web site. In this picture, the virtual folders are light blue.
In the visualization category, each file icon will provide a view of the actual data contained in the file. (If you've used the Thumbnails view in the My Pictures folder, you have the general idea.) The icon will be scalable via a slider control that will allow you to resize the icon, and thus the snapshot of the file's contents, from the standard icon size all the way up to a 256 by 256-pixel icon.
In addition to these live icons, you can also view the content of selected files in a preview area along with a very rich assortment of properties associated with the file. The preview area will allow you to edit a file's properties as well as view the content. In this way the visualization feature is tied to the virtual folder organizational feature.
You can see an example of the live icon view in this photo taken by CNET News.com, Staff Writer Ina Fried.
In the search category, Longhorn's search feature will take advantage of the organizational features built into the virtual folder technology to provide almost instantaneous results of any search enquiry you make. And since data is no longer limited to only files on the hard disk, the new search tool will also automatically scan other sources such as email, contacts, appointments, RSS feeds, and even your Internet history. If you're on a network, Longhorn's search feature will be capable of reaching out to other Longhorn systems as it compiles the search results.
Now, as I close this issue, it's important to keep in mind that you have to take this information with a grain of salt at this point, considering the fact that Longhorn's release date is still over a year a way—Microsoft has alluded to a 2006 holiday season release date—and the operating system is still in a state of flux.
As always, if you have other ideas or information to share about Longhorn's information visualization, organization, and search features, please take a moment to drop by the Discussion area and let us hear.
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Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.