Monday, June 12, 2006

What is new in Microsoft Longhorn? – Part 1 of 2

Longhorn is the code-named for the upcoming version of Microsoft Windows.

When we write of new features in Longhorn, we mean the new features in Microsoft Windows Vista (Desktop version) as well as Microsoft Windows Server 2007 (Server version).

Following are the new features in Microsoft Longhorn:

1) Longhorn has a new feature called Server Manager that lets administrators configure servers with only the components they need for specific tasks, such as file servicing, Web serving, DNS or DHCP. Server Manager includes 17 roles.

2) Longhorn will include a component called as Windows Hardware Error Architecture (WHEA). According to Microsoft, WHEA lets users manage potential error sources such as processor, memory, cache and I/O bus. Hardware vendors will stipulate certain attributes to be managed on each hardware component. WHEA will not cover such components as fans and will not support PCI Express in the first version of Longhorn.

3) Longhorn will include the BitLocker technology, which is used to prevent malicious software or users from executing a boot sequence that is different than what is stored in BitLocker.

4) Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) was introduced in Windows 2003 R2. In Longhorn, Digital Rights Management (DRM) functionality will be added to ADFS, making it more secure.

5) Longhorn will have exciting graphics which will clearly differentiate its interface from Windows XP or Windows 2000. It achieves this with the use of a high end user interface called Aero Glass which provides stunning animations, vector graphics-based icons and screen elements, and translucencies. The beauty is, depending on the hardware configuration of the machine, Longhorn will auto-configure the machine to provide Aero Glass. If Longhorn finds the machine not-so-suitable to run Aero Glass, it will be auto-configured to run a scale down user interface called as Aero Express. This will be an Aero Glass type interface with XP style graphics.

6) In order to prevent the users on the client computers to be a member of the Local Administrators group, Microsoft will be introducing a concept called ‘Least Privileged User Account’. This is basically a secure code compartment in which most application code will typically run, something like the ‘Local System’ account under which the Services in Windows currently run. When trusted applications need administrator-level access, they can temporarily run in Protected User mode. It is an optional feature and administrators can continue working in the same old way if they choose to.

7) Microsoft aims to further reduce the number of events which require a reboot in Longhorn. The aim is to reduce the number of reboots required in Longhorn by 70% as compared to Windows XP or Windows 2003. Microsoft also plans to incorporate a concept called ‘hot patching’ which can update the kernel level drivers with the newly released patches and still would not require a reboot. As a disclaimer, there will still be some patches which will require the machine to be rebooted post-installation.

8) Longhorn will provide built-in protection against spyware and viruses. Also the administrators would be able to centrally control the anti-virus and anti-spyware features for organization wide uniformity.

9) Longhorn introduces a concept of Virtual Folders. The easiest way to understand a virtual folder is to compare it with a saved query in a search box. For example, if there are 20 files in the computer with words MCSE anywhere in it, and a Virtual Folder called as MCSE is created. Each time a new file is added to the computer with the content of MCSE or an existing file is removed, the contents of the virtual folder MCSE will be updates. The Virtual Folder will be displayed in blue color as compared to yellow of the regular folders.

10) Longhorn is also back to the Windows NT 4.0 concept of Backup Domain Controllers (BDCs). Only this time they are called Read-Only Domain Controllers (RODC). According to Microsoft, RODCs are better for branch office situations where the security and IT skill set will not be at par with the central office. RODC will have Universal Group Caching on by default.

Part 2 of this document is available here.

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