Recently having been granted the honor to help test Longhorn in it's alpha stages, I would like to offer the people here a take on what to expect and what needs to be understood about Microsoft's upcoming OS, codenamed Longhorn. My point here today is to shed light beyond the rumors, beyond all the "OMFG H4T3!!!", and all the 'fanbois', but primarily to let you see a bit of the future Windows has to offer. Let's finish with the introductions and get straight into the heart of it!

Computer specs tested in:
- Pentium III 800mhz
- 400 megs of RAM
- WDC 40 gig HD on IDE (primary partition set at ten gigs, other 30 is blank)
- Nvidia GeForce 2 MX w/ 64 megs of RAM on AGP
- Toshiba DVD-ROM SD-M1612
- DM288 52x cdwriter
- Microsoft optical wireless two button mouse with horizontal and vertial scrollwheel
- Microsoft natural keyboard
- Sound Blaster Live! PCI
- Running at 1024x768 resolution 32 bits (@85hz, or else I would be in 1240x1028)

Longhorn version:
Longhorn alpha build 4074


Longhorn, schedualed for release in 2006, is going to change the way an OS interacts with the user. The bar of desktop design, usability, and features is going to skyrocket. The very philosophy behind how OSes and desktops are programmed will be changed. Why such a dramatic impact? Because Microsoft is doing what everyone has said they would never do.

1. Give it a professional look, not a candy-land look.
2. Give it security on locked-down level, by default.
3. Give the OS the tools to do proper security handling.
4. Make Windows be more than "just a new release"

Let's review the sections of Longhorn and how it compares to the old school windows releases.

Installation process

No more command line mode, period. From the time it is insert to the time the installation completely finishes, you never once have to deal with a command line, ncurses similar installation interface.

Primary installation screen:

It's clean, it's quick, it gets the job done. Not an overly large thing, but it is good to see a 100% seamless installation process. From setting the computer name, to accepting the Terms of Agreement, to even partitioning, it's a beauty to install just to see the differences.

Partitioning screen:

Formatting is now allowed on more than one partition, rather than on the only one you will be installing on. NTFS is default, as FAT and FAT32 is no longer supported (and for good reasons). It is noteable that the reasoning behind NTFS being used is because the WinFS (a service in Longhorn) uses the NTFS structuring ability to organize files automagically and intuitivly.

For more information on WinFS, read :

To give a brief summary, WinFS keeps constant tabs on the system and the content of the system to place them in the appropriate places. For example, let's say you have 400 music files in C:\music. WinFS keeps tabs on them and adds those files to a library (not literally move) in which you can access to view the files you have from C:\music and C:\download\share\music all in one spot (similar to putting a ton of shortcuts in one folder) . So, think of WinFS as a librarian who finds out where everything is and creates a very well organized database of those files so they can be accessed with ease.

The installation process itself is very painless, requiring minor input. In fact, after telling it the serial key, your computer name, and partitioning, there is nothing left to do. It will install, reboot, detect hardware, configure hardware (for first time use) all on it's own. Why is this such a good thing? I always hated how wheever I installed 2k or XP I was required to always be nearbye to input a question halfway through the intallation. Getting all the information at the beginning means thirty to fourty minutes of free time to go and do something else while it installs.

Which brings me to a common rumor.

The hardware configuration and checking on installation takes 9 hours!

This is simply not true, but does branch from half true. You see, at the very end of the installation, Windows runs through a process to detect all of your hardware and install the best drives possible right off the bat. It took twenty minutes for me (of the total fifty). However, for those with much less common hardware that what I mentioned to be running above, it may take longer. I have see first hand a case of fourty minutes, but with hardware so obscure it should have it's own green card.

That being said, the duration in which it configures the hardware is also the same timeframe in which the installer begins to peice together the final aspects of Windows. You see, there is only one reboot during a Longhorn installation, to reboot and begin using the copied setup files from the harddrive rather than the cd rom. This means once Windows is done installing, it's literally done installing. It heads straight into the desktop. This also means that a bit of extra configuration and finalization is expected during the hardware configuring process. None the less, disregard the rumor, for the sake of everyone.

First experience, on the desktop
It takes a moment or two to go from desktop wallpaper to a full desktop, and this is because the services in Longhorn are numerous, esecially on a fresh installation. That's not a worry though, because as soon as it loads you are staring at a marvelous interface.

Default Longhorn Desktop:

Icons with transparent abilities, a stable (and memory leaking fixed) sidebar, with the professional feel of the slate theme. So what is my first thought, after the initial shock of the beautiful interface?

Damn, it's a bit too slow for my tastes.

Which reminds me, what are the requirements for Windows Longhorn? To clear up another rumor, here is the answer: NO ONE HAS ANY IDEA OR OFFICIAL WORD FROM THE HIGHER-UPS! SO STOP MAKING IT UP! As a beta tester I can tell you that the 'projected' minimum according to the documentation given to the testers is a 4ghz and 1 gig of ram, but anyone who has ever beta tested anything in their life can tell you how often 'projections' can change. Why so much RAM and processing power?

Let me ask a question to answer that question, and then I will proceed to answer the first question again, but with an answer.

my question: You mean one gig of RAM won't be common by 2006, in the same way 500 wasn't common today? Two years ago 500 megs was the same impressive thing to show your friends as having one gig is now. I can see in two years that showing off two gigs of ram will be the next impressive thing, honestly. Pentium IV 3.2 an expensive and overlypowerful processor, much less a Pentium IV 4ghz minimum? Think back a few years ago, when a Pentium IV came out and how no one ever thought people would need that speed.

my answer: It is a common misconception that a newer (better) OS should take less RAM, less resources, and be bug free. I can agree with the last one but not the first two. You see, by tne very nature of computers they are improved upon. What good is hardware that no one takes advantage of? Another common misconception is that a newer OS should be streamlined in code, thus a smaller filesize. Do not confuse bad code with coded better/more secure/more efficient. Let's be honest here, do you honestly think people are going to code worse and worse JUST to spite you? No, as a company I am sure Microsoft is streamlineing its code to a very well rehearsed degree. This means faster computing for better OS processing, more features, more stability, etc etc. This means more RAM for better graphics, more features, more stability. Constantly improving, getting bigger better and faster. That is how the OS industry lives and works. (I use linux as my primary OS, so don't any zealots here try to say their distro's are getting smaller)

However, we never judge an OS by an initial use. There is always more to learn, and thus ways to improve it in which we have not yet discovered. As you will see later, those requirements can be brought down quite a bit.

side note: Total Longhorn installation size was approx 3g. Keep in mind that this is an OS with tons of debugging and symbols kept within the code for the developers, and is in no way the final released (without the hundreds of megs of debugging code) product.

New interface handling and graphics

Beauty. Harmony. Professionalism with a touch of 'rebel' in it. That's how I feel I can best describe the new UI of Longhorn. The changes are major, but in such a way that it feels natural. Let's set aside words, and show you what has changed:

New error reporting and program 'force shutdown':

Computer navigation toolbar improvement:
Two choices, each at the click of a button

Normal, by clicking on an empty area in the toolbar:

Quick navigation, by clicking on one of the folder words and selecting a different folder in the same folder as it:

Mouse icon highlight as it moves:

Normal mouse movement, across files, no clicking, to get a sense of where you are:

Mouse highlighting or clicking an item:

Images zoom and information while mouse hovers:

Folders give sneak peak of content inside

Navigation controls look sharp, and glow. From check boxes to radials, buttons to menus, everything fades in and fades out, glows a bit and glows out. In a good, nonobtrusive and distracting way:

With the help of WinFS, audio files across the system can be organized and catagorized automagically, placed into an easily searchable and navigational interface, built right into the User interface:

The same appies to games:

And email/MSN contacts:

And videos:

IE gets a facelift, as a built in pop-up blocker, the ability to say no and remember the setting to activex requests, and built in download manager with priority setting ability:

The new Sidebar, which offers quite a few choices to plugin:

This tile is used to store files that you want to send or copy. It is very similar to "My Briefcase" in Windows 9x.

This tile displays your Windows Messenger contact list on the sidebar. Note that WinFS and Windows Messenger 6 are required for this tile to function correctly.

News Feed:
Anyone who is familiar with the MSDN SDK samples will know that you could compile this tile for 4051. Now this tile is included by default. It displays the news off of the Longhorn dev center.

Notification History:
This tile displays all previous notifications that have been presented on the current boot.

People Nearby:
I am really not sure what this tile does but i am assuming it does what the name suggests. It displays contacts that are nearby and available.

This tile displays an analog clock along with the digital time below it and the date. When you click on this tile, a “flyout” appears with a Calendar.

Quick Launch:
This tile displays the items in your Quick Launch folder (which is located at %userprofile%\Application Data\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch).

Classic Tray:
This tile displays the items that were once next to the clock on the taskbar. Some icons may not display correctly (colors may appear distorted or elements may be missing) or they may not display at all. To access these icons, click on the tile, and a flyout will appear.

Slide Show:
This tile displays a slide show of all the pictures contained in your “My Pictures” folder. This is great to enable if you have family photos that you enjoy to see, albeit this tile is not very customizable in this build.

This tile is used for file synchronization. Requires WinFS to be enabled to work properly.

Power (Transient):
This tile displays the status of a battery in a laptop computer. You need to set the Transient value to 0 in the registry in order for this tile to work.

Web Host Tile (Transient):
This tile is a traffic webcam tile similar to what was seen in earlier builds.

Most things on the sidebar have the ability to expand for better viewing, for example the RSS feed and clock

A screenshot of My Computer

Dozens of other things exist in changes to the UI that a screenshot simply will not do justice to. Animations, movement, fluid changes. Does it take a hit on resources and processing? Of course. Will it be worth it in terms of balancing something that looks good but could still be used for twelve hours straight a day? Yes.

You see, the interface of Longhorn is no longer strictly 2d, as they have a completely new gui handler called Avalon. Avalon takes the low memory requirements of 2d and the ability of DirectX 8 to deliver both to the desktop seamlessly. This means animations, 3d interactions, pixel shading, real transarency, shadows, and so forth.

Optimizing the system

Like any good admin, the only way to properly use an OS is to learn what makes it tick. And learn to make it tick I did. I am very impressed with the amount of configuration avaliable to the users. I found very few things which I was unable to change, and change easily. Microsoft has begun to learn how to make tools more robustly appealing to Linux users and thus not only do you have your normal section of options, but a plethora of ones that I even had to use the little '?' button on. Granted, there is room for even more choices and settings, but they have yet to be programmed in. No worries, I'm quite sure the one or two things that really -need- an option for (coughs- multiple RSS feeds on sidebar -coughs)

In short, streamlining the graphics, WinFS, toolbars, icon settings, eye-candy settings, process handling, memory handling, was a peice of cake. Although I will not explain the process I went through to get it to where I have it now (because about 1% of the people here even have it, legally), I can say that it runs almost idential to XP in terms of speed. Explorer.exe does take up more RAM due to the features I still have enabled (at 87 megs right now) but the hit isn't noticible enough for me to care. So let's dispell another rumor: "Longhorn requires you to have a Pentium 4 6 ghz with 4 gigs of RAM to run ::PPP".

Hey, all of you who say that over and over like a mantra...Pentium III 800mhz on 400 megs of RAM, with very few features disabled, running as fast as XP. Eat it, and stop spreading lies just to MS bash.

Final thoughts

While I can not go too in depth about the full functionality due to it not being a full release yet, I can say that I am impressed with it. Longhorn does have it's flaws but then again this is an alpha release. However, the good points and natural flow in which Microsoft has decided to take outweighs the minor irritations and feature limits (both which will be resolved by final release). As an OS, it has great potiential to shake the very foundations of OS development. As an interface, it has brought us one step closer to slick interfaces that we all see in movies of the future. Will it have it's downsides? I'm sure it will. But don't ever let a few bad things cloud the overall good something can have not only on it's primary use, but on the people and community around it. Never forget that.

How has it done overall good to the communities of computing? It's redone the ICF (internet connection firewall) that comes with Windows, which is where the firewall in Windows XP Sp2 has come from. It's given Linux zealots some tools and configuration options to be jealous of. It's enhanced IE security through pop-up handling and deep activex control. It's balanced 'merely being an OS' with 'leave me some RAM to play games with'. It's starting to become everything people thought it would never be. And because of these courageous strides and innovation, many will benefit. Be it the Open Source communities that gain new ideas from Longhorn, or the users that liked the stability of Windows 2000 but with a professional interface that XP never reached.

Understand that this is not a review of how good or bad Longhorn is! This is simply my take on it's progress, the rumors surrounding it, and to give everyone else a chance to see what is coming in the future. While brief, and maybe a bit scattered, these were my thoughts on Windows Longhorn 4074. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I have enjoyed merely being in the Longhorn enviroment!


Longhorn 4074 background:

My desktop screenshot:

Usage of Longhorn:


Finally figured out the finer points of the Aero Avalon system, and enabled the 3d effects on alt + tab This is a screenshot of my desktop in alt+tab mode, in which it alternates between windows like this to get a better idea of what you want. Current theme is the included Jade them.