It's been a long year. On May 4, 2004, Microsoft group vice president Jim Allchin provided a keynote address at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) 2004 (see my show report), during which he demonstrated Longhorn builds 4067 and 4069 and discussed such Longhorn features as Avalon, Indigo, and Aero. The company then provided build 4074 to show goers, and to MSDN subscribers. It looked like Longhorn was finally on track.
Not quite. Unbeknownst to those outside of Microsoft, Longhorn was about to take a major detour. The 4000-series builds that Microsoft had just shown off and handed out had already run their course and were destined for the technological dustbin. The problem, I was told recently, was that the underpinnings of Longhorn--then based on the Windows XP code base--were struggling under the weight of all of the technologies that Microsoft planed to implement in this release.
I'll make available an exclusive write-up about what happened next sometime in June 2005, but for now let's just say that Longhorn's architects went back to the drawing board. The 4000-series builds were scrapped, and the company started building Longhorn again from scratch, using the Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 (SP1, see my preview) code base (as it did for the x64 version of Windows XP (see my preview). The idea is that Longhorn needed to be better componentized from the start, so that the company could offer more discrete versions of the product to customers and more easily add-on the many disparate technologies it was developing. These versions of Longhorn are identified by their 5000-series build numbers.
Late last month, Microsoft finally issued its first public build of Longhorn, build 5048. Also known cryptically as the Longhorn Developer Preview, Longhorn build 5048 was actually created on April 1, 2005 and does not reflect some of the advancements Microsoft has recently made. That was by design: Longhorn build 5048 is designed largely for device driver writers and, as such, does not include many of the user interface niceties we're expect from Longhorn. Furthermore, it actually represents a usability back-step from last year's build 4074. That's because some features, like the Sidebar and the new system-wide Contacts utility, are missing in action in 5048. There are reasons for these omissions. None of them are particularly good.
In any event, Longhorn build 5048 was issued at WinHEC 2005 (see my show report). Between WinHEC 2004 and WinHEC 2005, and while Longhorn was silently being re-engineered, Microsoft publicly revealed that Longhorn was changing somewhat. First, the WinFS data storage engine would be delayed until after Longhorn shipped, though Microsoft promised a beta version of WinFS around the same time that Longhorn was completed and vowed to include most of the instant desktop search functionality in Longhorn regardless. Second, key Longhorn technologies, such as Avalon and Indigo, would be ported to Windows XP with SP2, Windows Server 2003 with SP1, and the x64 versions of XP and 2003, to ensure developers that they would have a big enough market to target. Microsoft also vowed to ship Longhorn in 2006. (I've written about these developments extensively on this site. Check out my Road to Windows Longhorn 2004 and Road to Windows Longhorn 2005 showcases for details).