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Ina Fried

Staff Writer, CNET

Microsoft plans in April to offer developers an updated test version of Longhorn, along with more details on what’s in store with the next major update to Windows.

In an e-mail to developers on Wednesday, Microsoft said it would offer a new developer preview release of Longhorn at the company’s Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, April 25-27 in Seattle.

The company has also updated its WinHEC site with a preliminary list of tracks–many of which are devoted to Longhorn.

The track descriptions suggest a number of the areas in which Longhorn will be seeking to improve on today’s Windows, including enhancements to printing, improvements in power management and a new feature that will allow Longhorn-based PCs to connect directly to cellular phones. Other topics include enhancements that Longhorn will bring to mobile computing, including support for secondary displays.

Microsoft lists a session devoted to the hardware requirements for Longhorn. “This session explores the components that define a Windows Longhorn-ready PC and covers core system requirements, marketing considerations, and the timeline for customer awareness leading up to Windows Longhorn PC availability,” Microsoft said on the site.

The updated developer preview software will be the first look at Longhorn since the software maker announced plans last fall to scale back several planned features of the OS.

The company announced last August that it would make changes to all three major pillars of Longhorn. The company pulled out the new WinFS file system feature, while changing the Indigo Web services and Avalon graphics engines so that they would work with both Longhorn and Windows XP.

The company has served up a couple of prior developer preview versions of Longhorn already, but those editions predated the Longhorn changes.

In addition to the new developer preview, Microsoft said earlier this month that it plans to have a more full-featured beta release of the OS by the end of June. The final release of Longhorn is planned for the second half of next year, Microsoft has said.

A Microsoft representative was not immediately available for further comment.