Windows Longhorn: First Look
by Arie Slob
Hello Windows users,
I finally found some time to download & install the "PDC" version of Longhorn (build 4051), the future replacement of Windows XP, which Microsoft made available to MSDN subscribers.
The setup portion in Longhorn has been updated from previous Windows versions, and now sports a slick dark look (Figure). There's not much info to enter in the first screens, but there is a summary screen where options can be changed, such as computer name, installation location and others (right now only these two work, so you can't set the user accounts, regional settings, keyboard and time-zone) (Figure).
The "file-copy" part took some 15 minutes, and then Longhorn "claims" in will detect your hardware in about 10 minutes. Well, that part took nearly 20 minutes, so the total install time took roughly 35 minutes. That is still an improvement over Windows XP, which took around 45 minutes to install on the same hardware.
When you log on (Figure) to Longhorn the first time, you'll get to the desktop first (Figure), and after some time, the Side Bar and Taskbar appear (Figure). In its current form, it all seems to crawl along, but that shouldn't mean much (this isn't even a beta version).
There is an important thing to note when looking at this Longhorn build though: The Luna-like visual style included (called "Slate"), does not resemble the final product in any way. The new user interface (called "Aero") will change things a lot compared to this Longhorn build.
What you'll notice first is the new Longhorn wallpaper on the desktop. Next you'll notice the new Sidebar. This is a new bar that is also seen in the new MSN 8.x (Dashboard). In the current Longhorn build, there isn't much functionality in this Sidebar. There's a "classic" clock showing (which doesn't want to display my 24 hour preference underneath, staying instead with the AM/PM view). It also has a Quick Launch "Tile", and the option to add Classic Tray, Slide Show and Sync Tiles.
On first glance the Start menu seems similar to Windows XP, but there are a number of differences. The Start menu (Figure) contains several new "folders" which are libraries of certain file-types on your computer. For example, the new Photos and Videos is a library of all image and movie files on the system. There are also libraries for Documents, Contacts, Games, and Music.
The "Libraries" mentioned above, are "virtual folders". These gather information about files on your system and present them to the users in a collection. This is based on Longhorn's WinFS-based data mining and filtering capabilities. You might have heard WinFS referred to as Longhorns "new File System", however this is not the case. Longhorn's File System is NTFS. WinFS is a database-like storage engine, which is based on technology from SQL Server 2003. What this means is that Longhorn will be able to keep "track" of all your files. For example, the Photos and Videos library will contain all these file locations on your system, so that it doesn't really matter where they are stored on your system, you'll be able to find them in this "folder".
The new Search tool is based on the WinFS system, and seems to work quite nicely. For example, I did a search on the phrase "Longhorn" (Figure), and it located it in the history of my IM (Instant Messaging); I had discussed exploring Longhorn with a friend on Windows Messenger.
The option to search the Internet defaults to (what else?) MSN Search. Let's hope that will be configurable; most users have their own favorite search engine.
Internet Explorer & Outlook Express
In this build, Internet Explorer has version 6.05.4051.0. It has quite a different look from the current Internet Explorer versions (Figure). A lot of users will be pleased that Internet Explorer now includes the ability to block pop-up windows. This can be either switched on from the Tools menu directly (Figure), or by going to the Privacy tab on the Internet Options dialog (Figure), where you can set additional options, such as allowing certain sites to serve pop-up windows, or to have Windows alert you by a sound that a pop-up was blocked. You can then use an icon on the Internet Explorer toolbar to show that pop-up window anyway, or place the site to your "allow" list, so it will be able to show you pop-ups (Figure). This can be particularly helpful on banking Web sites, which sometimes use pop-up windows to show you additional information.
The version of Outlook Express included in this build of Longhorn is called Outlook Express 7 (6.05.4051.0). It looks a bit different from the current Outlook Express versions (Figure), but it doesn't seem to have any additional functionality (such as Spam filtering).
There would be more to tell, but I don't see the use of going into various little details on this build, since it is clear that Microsoft still has a lot of work to do before the first beta (expected next summer) will ship.
First impressions are fine. I sure like the new search feature based on WinFS. I have so much stuff in documents and text files, that I have a real hard time finding what I am looking for. And the ability to just search on a phrase and be able to find what I am looking for makes the Windows search perform more like a Web search.
The ability to block pop-up windows in Internet Explorer is nice, but I would really want to see the ability to open new windows as "tabs". That is something missing from Internet Explorer, and a big drawback in its functionality. I already find myself using the Mozilla Firebird browser just for this functionality.
Use the comment link below to tell me what you think about it, and to ask any questions you may have, I'll try to address them in a future article.
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