Auckland developer Lukas Svoboda is the proud owner of a copy of Longhorn, the next version of Microsoft Windows.
Svoboda, CTO of development house Orbiz International, was one of 7000 developers at the Los Angeles Conference Centre late last month for Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference, where the softwware was handed out.
Svoboda was impressed both by the product and the event.
"They presented Longhorn, and it's an operating system. Who cares? But the thing is that it's a huge change.
"It was a lot more than I expected," he says. "PDC itself was pretty mind-blowing. Just to see where everything is going is quite phenomenal."
Longhorn's PDC build is intended only for developers -- there's still months and perhaps years of work before it will be considered ready for end users -- but Svodoba says it's stable and most of the features do work.
"When you use Longhorn, it's still slower than XP. It's not that it doesn't work, it's just that it's not really quite there.
"I wouldn't want to give Longhorn to a user unless they had a really fast machine."
Microsoft will have plenty of time to work on the speed issues before release, but in the meantime developers are taking a careful look at the new tools and features before the software reaches store shelves.
"With production, you have to wait until something comes out," says Svodoba. "But in terms of development and planning, well, we're already using it now. We have got it integrated into our development routine.
"I think we have got a really good look at all the fundamentals. I think what they have to do now is bed it down, get it really locked down."
The version Svoboda has doesn't include frills and features designed for end users, but he is optimistic the new tools will result in better applications being available for Longhorn when it is released. "For professional developers, it's the ease of use to create those interfaces. You can do that today but it costs you a lot of time and effort.
"I truly think it is revolutionary. For starters, I think it's going to dramatically cut down on the cost of writing applications, and really increase the 'wow' factor of what we can do."
He's certain Microsoft has more to offer end users before Longhorn is released. "You are overwhelmed by things [at PDC] and listening to this stuff and then you suddenly realise it's only the tip of the iceberg."
Before PDC, Longhorn was slated for release in 2005, but Microsoft stressed that the schedule is flexible. Many observers are picking sometime in 2006 as the likely release date.
The Professional Developers Conference event was hotly anticipated because developers would finally see what Microsoft had in store for the future. Microsoft had promised to show off Longhorn and the tools and services available to developers.
Some of the products on show were expected, such as Longhorn itself and the next version of SQL Server. But Microsoft surprised many observers with the announcement of new technologies such as XAML (pronounced Kamel), an XML-based language for describing user interfaces.
The key releases at PDC were Avalon, the vector-based screen rendering system; WinFS, the indexed file service originally known as Cairo; and Indigo, an update to the .Net frameworks. Other technologies on display included the next generation of Visual Studio tools, codenamed Whidbey; Yukon, the next versions of SQL Server, and its mobile cousin SQL Server CE 3.0; and MSBuild, the new build system.
Avalon includes XAML, the new UI creation language. PDC demos included Adobe After Effects rendering direct to XAML, and rich-UI applications displayed remotely.
"From a developer perspective, you don't actually care where your application turns up," says Svoboda. "Do we do it as a [stand-alone] application, or do we do it in the browser?"
Svoboda says XAML combines vectors, interface objects, and data binding, allowing for much richer interfaces than current tools. He expects to see much more useable applications emerge for Longhorn. XAML will also handle the same tasks as existing vector description languages such as SVG or Flash. "I imagine you'll start to see things like Flash-to-XAML convertors, and so on," he says. "I thought that was pretty cool."
Microsoft's plans to build Windows on an indexed file service aren't new, but seem certain to be realised in Longhorn. Svoboda describes WinFS as an "object-relational, hierarchical database." WinFS is built on technology from SQL Server. Data can be accessed from files using a variety of methods, including SQL queries.
Applications running on Longhorn are able to use WinFS to extract data, without using their own proprietary storage or searching methods. The Longhorn version of Outlook Express, for example, stores email and addresses in the filesystem and accesses them through WinFS, Svoboda says.
Developers weren't told how WinFS features will be deployed across a network. "Perhaps that's where SQL Server Yukon is going to go."
Many observers were caught unaware when Microsoft announced Indigo, which combines existing enterprise storage with XML web services and remoting. Indigo's technology is not new, but the way Microsoft has combined the feature set is. "That's why I think it's significant," says Svoboda. "It's basically there to make developers' lives easier."
Orbiz International is heavily involved in mobile development, so Svoboda was particularly interested in SQL Server CE 3.0, codenamed Laguna. The new version of the mobile database has true multi-user support and full row and page locking, allowing mobile developers to store local data much more easily without being constrained by resource issues. "If you had to store that in XML or something it would be a real nightmare," says Svodoba.
Mobile developers also get a new feature in the server version of SQL Server, codenamed Yukon. Yukon includes the Workbench, a task manager for administrators. The Workbench lets developers create CE databases and manage them from within Yukon. "Again, it all goes back to the productivity," Svoboda says. "It takes you less code to do more."