The scoop on Microsoft's next generation operating system: Longhorn

Have you been hearing whispers about a new version of Microsoft Windows operating system called “Longhorn”?

If you did, you either have insider information or heard it from Seattle resident Brian Livingston. He is a contributing editor and columnist for InfoWorld magazine and has authored almost a dozen best-selling books on Microsoft, including his recent “Windows ME Secrets.”

Brian took a few minutes to give us the scoop on what he’s been hearing about Microsoft’s next generation operating system, code named “Longhorn,” and how it will effect Windows users and Microsoft’s anti-trust restrictions.

Q: Let’s talk about the recent unauthorized back-door early alpha pre-release of Longhorn operating system from Microsoft. Was this early leak a mistake on Microsoft’s part?

Livingston: I don’t think Microsoft was ready to release a version of its new consumer edition of Windows yet. This might have taken them by surprise.
It’s really going to be an amazing change for users of Windows. I don’t think we’re going to see a real consumer product until around 2005, but I think people should start preparing for the changes now.

Q: Let’s talk about Longhorns concept, the direction it’s going and how it will change our current experience with Windows.

Livingston: Longhorn will probably be called “Windows 2005” or a name that doesn’t have “Windows” in it. The new version of the operating system will not run any of your existing Windows software. Microsoft has said that it is going to have to rewrite all of the Microsoft Office suite, and other people are going to have to rewrite their packaged and custom applications as well.
The benefit of that is Microsoft is starting to take seriously all the problems people are having with security leaks and patches they’re having to put on Windows and the kind of e-mail viruses people have been getting for years.
The Longhorn version of Windows should actually cut down on that a great deal because Microsoft pays an incredible amount of money when people contact customer support with problems.

Rewriting Windows so it won’t have such security problems will be so attractive to people that companies and individuals will switch over to this new version of Windows almost immediately after it comes out in 2005 or whenever.

Q: I’ve heard this new version will have changes in the file system structure. Is that a way to cut down on viruses that happen to certain file structures?

Livingston: It does give you more security. But the new file systems that Microsoft is talking about is actually something they’ve been working on in a project called “Cairo” for over five years.

This new file system will allow you to look through all your files. For example, you can see all the music files, files by a certain artist, files in a certain format, across all disk drives. You’ll have much more of an ability to find the stuff you want without having to look through whole lists alphabetically.

Q: Will the file structure be like what you see in the Macintosh?

Livingston: The reason Microsoft didn’t come out with this five years ago is that it’s very difficult to do.

It goes beyond the Macintosh filing system. It’s almost like your entire computer is a search engine. If you said, “Let me see all the MP3’s” or “Let me see all my charts and graphs,” you would see that.

I think Microsoft has had difficulty getting people to upgrade to Windows XP because the differences weren’t obvious. But the differences will be very obvious in Windows 2005.

I keep calling it Windows, but maybe we should touch on the fact that Microsoft won’t call it Windows because if it doesn’t run any Windows software. If Microsoft calls it something other than Windows, then it would be completely free from the anti-trust judge who is ruling over them for the next several years.

By calling it something other than Windows, they then would not have to worry about things like not being able to integrate certain software into the system. They are free from those restrictions.

Q: The actual screenshots of the pre-release version look an awful lot like XP. Will they revamp the look and feel?

Livingston: I think they are planning to revamp a lot of aspects. One of the biggest interface changes that I think is coming up in Windows is called “Sideshow.” This is a new user interface which kind of bounces off the old idea that you were going to have Windows on your desktop that would constantly feed you new sources of information – sort of like the old “push technology.” “Sideshow” is like a permanent strip of information that could, for example, be on the right hand side of your screen.

It could have all of your instant messaging buddies; it could have the traffic cams based on the routes you usually drive and maps that would show the best routes to take you where you want to go. The Windows operating system would become a gigantic thermometer or gyroscope showing you what’s going on in the world out there. Anytime you want to look at it, that information would be available to you.

Q: They tried that concept with Windows “Active Channels” a few years ago. Is that what’s coming back, along with a little more power combined with their new spot technology?

Livingston: “Active Channels” was taken out of Windows because it had a performance hit. It took some CPU cycles to do and there wasn’t actually that much content that was available then. But today, and certainly by 2005, you’ll have feeds of information from a variety of sources on the Internet and it will be much easier to subscribed to something you’ll actually want to be taking up valuable real estate on your desktop.

Q: The things you are talking about are new information to a lot of people. I know you have your ear to the ground through your tip site at Are you talking about things that are still very proprietary to Microsoft and kept secret? How did you find out?

Livingston: Various people who have been getting some of the early test releases of the software do leak it. You can find leaks on various places on the Internet. Unfortunately, they will be there one day and gone the next.
I have started a newsletter called “Brian’s Buzz on Windows” at where I put out this information that readers send to me. As the Windows Longhorn release comes closer, we will have better information about what’s going to be in it and, more importantly, how people need to be planning for it. If they have to rewrite older Windows software for it to run, now would not be too soon a time to start.

Q: Are you getting any fallout from Microsoft? Are they upset with you?

Livingston: To be honest, I have never had a contact from Microsoft for any of the 10 “Windows Secrets” books that I’ve written. Some of the people at the top of Microsoft haven’t been too happy with me, but the programmers with Microsoft usually have been very, very nice to me because they recognize that I realize their professionalism and skill, and I’m not trying to criticize them.
I’m usually trying to show people how to use the features that these programmers have put in that just didn’t get into the manual Microsoft gives you with this product.

For more information about Livingston, visit To send him a tip or subscribe to his newsletter, visit

Next week: Part 2 of our conversation with Brian Livingston on the future of Microsoft Windows. The full audio interview can be heard at:

Dana Greenlee is co-host, producer and engineer of the WebTalkGuys Radio Show, a Tacoma-based radio and Webcast show featuring technology news and interviews.