Developers Talk to Developers about New Windows Innovations

EDITORS’ UPDATE, Aug. 27, 2004
— Microsoft has announced it will target broad availability of “Longhorn” in 2006, and make key elements of the Windows WinFX developer platform in “Longhorn” available for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. See
press release

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 27, 2003 — This week at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC), Microsoft will debut Windows “Longhorn,” the code name for the next generation of the Windows platform, along with such additional key, next-generation Microsoft platform technologies as Visual Studio “Whidbey” and SQL Server “Yukon.” The PDC is an important first step in the journey to delivering the next version of the Windows platform and enabling the next wave of computing. Building on developer excitement for today’s platform capabilities and the benefits of managed code and the .NET Framework, Microsoft is enabling developers to build great applications that connect people, groups and organizations and make mountains of digital information meaningful and actionable.

Chris Anderson

Don Box

Quentin Clark Click image for high-res version.

To get a fuller sense of what the development community can expect from the next version of the Windows platform, PressPass spoke with three of their peers at Microsoft: Chris Anderson , Don Box , and Quentin Clark , who are all helping architect Windows “Longhorn.”

PressPass: How would you describe the driving forces behind the next generation of Windows?

Clark: Windows “Longhorn” largely represents Microsoft’s effort to provide a new spectrum of possibilities and opportunities for developers. Much of what we are doing is based directly on what software developers, our partners, and our customers have told us they want from the platform. Windows “Longhorn” is about opening up innovation and getting the whole industry excited about the new kinds of applications they can build.

Box: We’ve found that the vast majority of developers need to build programs that talk to other programs. That’s a vitally important scenario in an increasingly connected world, and I think there’s lots of innovation within “Longhorn” that will enable developers to integrate code from a variety of sources. That’s going to make it much easier for developers, both to integrate applications with the Windows platform as well as solve a lot of common business problems – many of which depend on programs that don’t run on Windows.

Anderson: With .NET, we took the first step toward elevating the whole platform, and Longhorn is all about continuing that journey based on developer, partner and customer demand. One of the things we’re doing in the evolution of the Microsoft platform and “Longhorn” specifically is applying the concept of managed systems in more than just code. We’re going to have a notion of managed applications, which means that, by redefining what it means to be an application, the system can provide more services and value in the ecosystem around those applications. It’s all linked together to help developers focus on solving the problems they have rather than being preoccupied with the infrastructure they need to build around the problems.

PressPass: How is each of you involved with the platform developments Microsoft is talking about at PDC?

Clark: I work on “WinFS,” the code name for a fundamental new storage capability. As part of this managed-code platform, it will enable a whole new set of storage-based applications and capabilities that allow users to easily find and relate things and act on data that they have in their systems. With today’s storage systems, users have to remember things like, “What is the path to the PowerPoint slides I need?” With “WinFS,” users think about their data more naturally, and can get questions answered like, “Where are the slides I presented last week to this customer? What’s it related to? Who worked on this? Have I received any feedback?” Along with “WinFS,” the emergence of XML and Web services has made information easier to describe and organize, and enabled a standardized way to store, process and share it.

Box: In “Indigo,” which is what I work on, the main concept we deal with is that a single program by itself is nowhere near as interesting or useful as several programs that can work together in concert. We’ve spent a lot of energy in the past five years working with the industry to develop interoperable protocols based on Web services, XML and service orientation. What we’re doing with “Indigo” is giving people a simple, unified way to take advantage of virtually any program that’s out there and to incorporate it into their world in an easy, reliable and secure way. In addition to making sure we have excellent implementation, we’re working with industry partners to ensure we’re all heading in the same direction so we can all provide the system interoperability that people want. The end result is connected systems that wire all the individual pieces together.

Anderson: “WinFS” gets to store your data, while “Indigo” lets you talk to other machines, applications, systems and devices. Everything you see and feel on the PC goes through the presentation layer, which we’ve code-named “Avalon,” and which is my area. You could say “Avalon” is the Common Language Runtime’s face in the next version of Windows. Developers want the ability to deliver rich text and great user experiences, and they want to blend those capabilities seamlessly with things like animation or video. The next generation of the Windows platform will support all of this much more simply. With “Avalon,” we’re exploring the types of experiences developers want to enable, and then looking back at the technology, we have to let them accomplish those tasks. By integrating two-dimensional and three-dimensional graphics, documents, video, audio, and animation, as well as tools to distribute and protect digital content, developers can more easily build software that is visually remarkable and offers a breakthrough experience to customers.

PressPass: What’s the significance of PDC 2003?

Clark: We’re walking into PDC this year with an incredibly integrated, broad platform offering that addresses many of the key needs of our customers and industry partners. We have a long way to go until we ship “Longhorn,” certainly. But it’s very clear to the three of us in this room what our roles are and how what we’re doing all fits together. And it will also be clear to everyone that there is a great path forward that starts today with managed code and the .NET Framework. Developers’ investments in skills, code and tools will carry them into the future.

Anderson: I think this PDC is so amazing. I worked on PDC 2000, when we announced .NET, and I believe that this year’s event is going to absolutely eclipse that one. Even with all the enthusiasm that’s been building up before the PDC, people don’t really understand what we’re going to show them this week. PDC will showcase some incredible innovations, from “Whidbey” [the next version of the Microsoft Visual Studio .NET developer tool system] to “Yukon” [the next version of the Microsoft SQL Server database management and analysis system] to Windows “Longhorn.” It’s exciting because we’re building on the .NET vision that generated so much buzz three years ago; we’re setting the stage for people to use those tools and move the .NET Framework forward.

Box: We have spent a lot of time thinking about developer continuity. The “Indigo” team actually manages several technologies that are already out in the field, such as COM, COM+, MSMQ and DTC, all of which were developed in the late ’80s and early ’90s. At this year’s PDC, we will let people know that we won’t leave them behind when it comes to those technologies. People’s investments in those technologies are going to move forward, as will those folks who recently invested in .NET. It’s very exciting to be able to share with developers the birthing of the whole platform, including an operating system. It’s all pretty profound.

PressPass: What kinds of reactions are you hearing from developers who have had the chance to experience some of the code that is being passed out at PDC?

Anderson: Developers were expecting us to do some innovations, but they are just amazed. We’ve got something like 10 gigabytes of new stuff for developers at the PDC. People have been very surprised with what we’ve been willing to undertake in the next version of Windows. We’re advancing our user interface, our GDI [graphics device interface], huge portions of our networking stack, and our file system. We’re moving over the majority of our code from the kernel memory manager to the Common Language Runtime.

Clark: What I’m hearing is a lot of gears turning. People tell me they can see how “WinFS” will revolutionize how people manage data on the PC. People are talking about innovations in their applications that they previously didn’t think were even possible. That helps validate our efforts and reassures us we’re on the right path.

PressPass: How does the next version of Windows build on the work that developers are already doing today?

Box: Developers who have embraced .NET will see their investments bear fruit. Their experience with writing in C#, Visual Basic .NET, or any other managed language will be a very useful skill in the “Longhorn” world. Understanding how to build XML and Web services, which we obviously put a lot of effort into in the first round of developing .NET technologies, will also serve developers well in the next generation of Windows.

Anderson: I often say that we spent a lot of time making sure we could leverage the developer, but maybe not always the code. There are cases where the developer will write new code to take advantage of the new innovations. But we wanted to make integration to the platform as easy as possible. For instance, you can actually access a good portion of “WinFS” with the standard Win32 file library. If you want the richer functionality, then you can exploit the new API in your code.

PressPass: How is Microsoft addressing the issue of security in the “Longhorn” development process?

Anderson: Security is a supreme priority for all of the design work in Windows “Longhorn.” In “Avalon,” we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how we’re going to have these rich, interactive applications that work across the network and make them run securely. So we’re building on all the code access security work that happened in the .NET Framework. That enables us to have applications that are running in a less-privileged environment. So even if there is some potential to exploit security vulnerabilities, we’re making it less likely that such vulnerabilities can be accessed.

Clark: Security is being designed into “WinFS” from the ground up. The design has the full bearing of the Windows security model and the CLR security infrastructure behind it. For the things that are stored in “WinFS,” we have a security model that allows full authentication and authorization control.

Box: With “Indigo,” we’ve built in secure protocols down to the metal so that every message can be secure. As soon as data and information go out of the box, there is a strong security infrastructure in place, based on decentralized authentication, federated identification, message-based securities, and more.

PressPass: How can developers get started on the road to “Longhorn” today?

Anderson: A great first step is to come to this year’s PDC. But for those who can’t, there will be a ton of detailed and useful information at the new “Longhorn” Developer Center on the Microsoft Developer Network site (see link at right). The best general advice is to write managed code for new applications and start to exploit managed code selectively from existing applications, use Web services for your connections with other systems, and take advantage of all the enormous power we have on the PC today.

Box: Honestly, there is a lot of innovation happening in the current platform already. But I would tell folks to move to managed code and the .NET Framework, because doing so will make it so much easier to integrate with the “Longhorn” platform. In Windows XP, you can write in managed code, but most of the core capabilities were written in native code. With Windows “Longhorn,” if you’re writing in managed code, you’re going to have a lot of advantages.

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