Windows Future

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I'm writing a ton about Longhorn this week, because I spent several days at WinHEC seeing features that are destined to appear in the final version. I've remained rather disinterested in the feature progression until now because Microsoft successfully killed most of the features I was most enthusiastic about when I saw the earlier "concept drawings" of the software. The features demonstrated worked at the time, but either had bugs or didn't live up to stability requirements and were later cut. The real features are finally starting to emerge, not the least of which is full 64-bit Windows, which is currently available in the form of a recompiled Windows XP Pro.

You'll see a few mentions of Longhorn here this week and then I'll likely remain silent about the new OS until I see the official Beta releases containing the features. If you want blow-by-blow advancements to the next generation operating system, Longhorn Blogs is a good place to stay connected. I met Robert McLaws, the guy behind Longhorn Blogs, at WinHEC and he's definitely got his finger on the pulse of where Windows is headed. I'm looking at the operating system from a fairly selfish perspective, thinking about what changes in the OS will benefit the way I use my PC. Without question, I will upgrade my existing PCs to whatever Longhorn is officially called (probably something boring like Windows 2006), but only because I'm convinced there are plenty of functional enhancements on the way.

One area where Microsoft is doing interesting work is by rethinking the way people look for files. Currently we are fairly limited in our efforts to organize information. The best strategy is a series of folders and subfolders all destined to categorize and subcategorize documents, images, music and movies into groups that make sense. If something fits into two categories, you either store it twice, make shortcuts to the master document in multiple locations or pick a place to store a file based on the best match (that's if you don't summarily dump everything in your My Documents folder in a jumble).

In Longhorn, Microsoft is taking an approach to all files that's similar to what we are used to with music. All files can be tagged with an Author designation, which maps very closely to the concept of an Artist in most music player applications. Individual files are further flagged with keywords defined by you to designate some common relationship. For instance, if you have 10 files all pertaining to your kitchen remodeling project, maybe you add the keyword 'kitchen' to each of those 10 documents. Now, when you want to find everything on your computer related to the kitchen remodel, you search by typing in the word 'kitchen', instead of needing to worry about which folder you stuck a particular file in. This keyword concept is very similar to searching by Genre in a media player. If you have 10 albums that are all Zydeco music, if you search your media player for Zydeco, you'll return only those 10 albums. Apparently there's also a rating system for files, although I'm not sure how that makes it easier to find stuff, unless you determine that everything rated 5-stars is more relevant than a 4, 3, 2 or 1-star document.

By using third-party apps like Picasa, we can get a similar keyword solution for photos today by tagging each photo with relative terms live names of people in the photos, events that correspond with the photos or places that might be in the photos. Having a common native method for creating interrelationships between all files is certainly helpful in making document discovery easier. There is a darker side to all this - what happens when your keyword tags are made public. Maybe you post your photos on a Website and you don't want the photos to retain information like your kids names or the location of a house in a picture. Microsoft hasn't expressed how they will deal with keeping the sorting designations private. In a world where someone can cancel your credit card simply by knowing the number, it's a little discomforting to think about adding personalized information to files and then sharing them with the rest of the connected universe.