Some thoughts on Longhorn

After reading this slashdot article I decided to view a little of Gates’s presentation on Longhorn, and I must say that Microsoft never ceases to amaze me. They seem to have the most backwards thinking with so many things they do, and this new Metro file format is no exception. The slashdot comments contain most of the obvious and typical remarks – why do we need another PDF? One of the more humorous notes in the presentation that I didn’t see mentioned on /. was in regards to printing. The presentor talks about the next generation of printers that will have Metro support built in to allow them to “decode” Metro documents and properly print them identical to what is seen on screen. In fact he even goes so far as to show the difference between a page printed with a Metro enabled printer, and a standard non Metro enabled printer. Just like he says, the standard printer is completely incapable of properly printing the gradients in his example document. So what does this prove? Only that whenever you upgrade your PC to Longhorn, you’ll also have to upgrade your printer in order to properly print Metro documents! This is incentive to upgrade my operating system? So that I can break the ability to use my printer that has always worked just fine? I’m not sure what blows my mind more – that Microsoft is actually crazy enough as to tout this as a feature, or that people buy into it.

Another Longhorn feature talked about was the enhancements to WinFS and Explorer (was called “Windows Explorer”, but I think it may be called “Document Explorer” now). WinFS was originally supposed to be a database powered file system, providing rich metadata and search capabilities. That idea has long since been scratched off the Longhorn road map, but they are still working on an extensive document metadata index. As it turns out, this should be very similar to Spotlight. Longhorn will also have “virtual directories”, akin to “smart folders” in Tiger. Blow for blow, it seems Microsoft and Apple have very similar plans for changing [for the better] how people will interact with their files. I say this not accuse one company of copying the other; on the contrary, I see this paridigm as a rather natural progression based on current trends in the search industry. What really gets me though, is the timeline – Tiger debuts in two days, while the most recently announced debut goal for Longhorn is “Holiday 2006” (given Microsoft’s track record, this can be read as “mid to late 2007 at the earliest”). We’re talking about a 2 year difference here… that is several lifetimes in this industry; I can’t possibly imagine what Apple will be rolling out two years from now.