Get up to speed on Microsoft's coming attractions

The much-anticipated new Windows OS, code-named Longhorn, and other releases loom large on the Microsoft horizon. Find out what you can expect from Longhorn, the reworked WinFS file system, and the Avalon and Indigo components of WinFX, Microsoft's next-generation programming model.

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All's quiet on the cyberterrorism front, but Microsoft's Longhorn and other releases loom large on the horizon. Let's take a look.


As of my deadline, no big new vulnerabilities or patches had cropped up this week to report. This relative calm gives me the opportunity to discuss an issue that, while not as urgent, is equally important.

With Windows XP rapidly aging—despite the Service Pack 2 upgrade—it's time to consider just what changes are in store for Windows over the next few years. Currently in development at Redmond are Longhorn (the next Microsoft OS), the reworked WinFS file system, and the Avalon and Indigo components of WinFX, Microsoft's next-generation programming model.

Indigo and Avalon are both components of WinFX, a new programming interface initially expected to ship around the same time as Longhorn. However, Microsoft has announced that it will release Indigo and Avalon for both Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP, rather than wait for Longhorn's debut, meaning these development tools are much closer to realization than the distant release of Longhorn.

Avalon is the unified presentation subsystem for Windows, which includes a display engine and a managed-code framework. Its purpose is to help developers create more user-unique experiences.

Indigo, Microsoft's new Web services development package, is the service-oriented communications infrastructure built on top of Web services protocols. Its purpose is to provide more secure and reliable messaging.

The simplest way to understand Indigo is to look at what it will integrate from earlier platforms. Here's how it stands now:

  • For interoperable Web services, turn to ASMX (ASP.NET Web services).
  • .NET Remoting implemented .NET Communication.
  • Enterprise Services includes Distributed Transactions and the like.
  • You can find support for WS-* Specifications in Web Services Enhancements.
  • For Queued Messaging development, look to Microsoft Message Queuing.

Indigo integrates all of these tools. After its release, developers can just turn to Indigo for all of these tasks. Indigo will support Java2, J2EE, and other OS platforms, including Solaris, Linux, and OS/2. In addition, it will explicitly support service-oriented development.

On March 15, Microsoft released a Community Technology Preview of Indigo and a second preview of Avalon, along with the WinFX SDK, to MSDN subscribers. The release includes compilers, tools, libraries, and documentation. For more information, check out these resources:

WinFS is a relational database technology that improves search capabilities, making it easier to find files, documents, and e-mail messages on workstations and local networks. WinFS was originally going to be another important component of Longhorn (along with WinFX), but it now appears that Microsoft will delay WinFS well past Longhorn's release. The company's current plan is to release WinFS (SQL Server 2005 technology) as an update for Longhorn.

By the way, if Microsoft's CIA-like code-name fascination is getting a bit confusing, I'd like to point out that another code-name, Lonestar—anyone else think all of the Texas-type cattle names for a company in Washington is strange?—is just the name for the Windows XP Tablet PC operating system after installing SP2.

Final word

It's long, strange trip time: Microsoft has gone from touting Longhorn as the event of the decade (Bill Gates, at the 2003 Longhorn Professional Developers Conference, called it "the biggest [release] since Windows 95") to paring down key features to meet the 2006 release deadline. And that deadline's only for the client version; the server version will take a year longer. If it keeps losing parts, will Longhorn even be worth looking at?

This leaves Longhorn as little more than a shell of its former self—just an incremental successor to XP.

Also watch for …

Unemployment in the IT industry: Have you noticed that all that hype about outsourcing has completely disappeared from the headlines? It turns out it was mostly a bit of election hype.

The good news is that there really isn't a shortage of IT jobs—there are just new places to look. If you're sitting in Silicon Valley and bemoaning your poor job outlook, consider Fairfax, VA. (Disclaimer: I lived there for several years and think it's a pretty decent place to live and work.) I believe the current unemployment rate is hovering around 1.5 percent, and tons of IT jobs are going wanting.

John McCormick is a security consultant and well-known author in the field of IT, with more than 17,000 published articles. He has written the IT Locksmith column for TechRepublic for more than four years.

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