Longhorn in the long term

If Windows XP seemed daring to conservative IT managers, Microsoft's next upcoming desktop .Net operating system, code-named Longhorn, should have them quaking in their corporate boots.

If Windows XP seemed daring to conservative IT managers, Microsoft’s next upcoming desktop .Net operating system, code-named Longhorn, should have them quaking in their corporate boots.

Whereas Windows XP evolved from Windows 2000, which in turn was built on Windows NT, Longhorn looks to be a dramatic rewrite of most, if not all, operating system components.

During the April 2002 Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), it was confirmed that Longhorn would get a SQL Server 2003/.Net based file system for local storage, instead of NTFS. The SQL Server-based file system will be used in all Microsoft’s products, ultimately, giving a unified storage technology that will allow search tools to work across a wide range of platforms.

Many new multimedia features such as DVD burning are also slated for Longhorn, in accordance with Microsoft’s initiative that the PC should be the centre of home entertainment.

The controversial Palladium technology will also feature in Longhorn. Palladium forms the technological corner stone of Microsoft’s “trustworthy computing” philosophy, which promises an end to spam, viruses, security worries and, possibly, much more stringent digital rights management than is currently possible today.

There’s plenty of speculation as to what Palladium is. It looks like it will either be the software to drive a Trusted Computing Platform Alliance (TCPA) hardware solution, or a set of Microsoft-designed microprocessors and security chips, implemented by Intel and AMD, with drivers built into the operating system.

TCPA is backed by industry heavyweights such as Intel, Compaq/HP, IBM and of course Microsoft. It and Palladium are both seen as business enabling technologies — for the first time, content providers can safely rent out material without fearing it will be copied or altered in any way. Time-limited rental of software and digital content is also possible under TCPA/Palladium, and the software will only run on a specific machine, nowhere else.

Civil liberty groups have been quick to point out that “trusted computing” in the TCPA/Palladium sense means “controlled computing”, amounting to what’s essentially remote censorship — it will be much harder to disseminate unauthorised information to journalists, for example, as documents can be set to only display or print out on certain machines, and even self-destruct without a trace if the wrong person accesses them.

Irrespective of its merits as a content protection and security system, TCPA/Palladium gives a vast amount of power to whoever controls the technology behind it.

Furthermore, being implemented in hardware, TCPA/Palladium will be next to impossible to disable or even circumvent. Are you ready for all your information and business transactions to be controlled by a handful of US companies?

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