Editorial: The Advent of Longhorn and OSS Considerations

Longhorn‘s arrival will indeed be monumental, as their research teams are finally producing something worthwhile. The OSS world has much to do in preparation for this release; this version of Microsoft’s OS will not simply offer trivial UI “enhancements” that appeal to users, as it has done in the past – they are really targeting both users and developers very forcefully this time around.I interned there last summer and got to see and use Longhorn, and saw the beta-Longhorn technologies (including the amazing Avalon, as well as a super alpha XAML (pronounced “zamel” implementation). The developers were excited, as they should be.

Avalon will be the most advanced user interfacing technology to date, blowing anything else (including Apple’s Quartz Extreme) out of the water. Avalon will be a huge pull for media application developers, the eye-candy market (including desktop extension frameworks such as DesktopX), and possibly for game developers. Seeing every widget on the screen scale seamlessly as the user manipulated a document reader last summer at the Microsoft Avalon technology demo was quite impressive, and struck fear into my heart for the rendering servers on open-source operating systems.

Thankfully, the OSS and Linux communities have much resourcefulness, and won’t be caught unawares when Avalon makes its debut. Keith Packards X server work has yielded some very groovy possibilities, as will the vector-imaging library Cairo, allowing us scalable drawing for arbitrary uses (including the interface toolkits).

WinFS will be a workable, usable implementation of what the desktops have desired for a long time – a large, flexible, user-friendly metadata database for the filesystem, and I assume MS will use it to its fullest capabilities when integrating it into the Longhorn user experience (mistakenly reported as a cut down feature recently). Even if an equivalent system becomes mature and widely used, it will be impossible for the desktop environments and applications to really integrate it until a great deal of time after Longhorn’s arrival. GNOME Storage is the GNOME camp’s attempt at rivaling this technology.

On the developer side of things, .NET is gaining popularity. It is really a well-thought out platform for developers to deploy their applications with, and as such is in a strong position to dominate developer interest, training, and experience in the near future, in a similar manner to how we’ve seen Java dominate in academic circles and universities. It is flexible in that other languages can be compiled into the .NET intermediate language, making the platform largely language agnostic. If the OSS world (or GNOME, in particular) embraces this technology, we basically get a free development platform, engineered by Microsoft (and implemented by the guys at Ximian, or elsewhere) that would speed up _application_ development in the OSS world, and at the same time offer a platform that is familiar and even compatible to that which the majority of programmers in the world are using.

Many are hesitant to embrace something from Redmond, and argue that such a development environment is not needed, and the current trend of application development (using assorted libraries and languages such as C and C++) will serve Linux and its related software well into the future. While this may be true for current OSS developers, the fact remains that the developer base will not grow by leaps and bounds until something more modern and familiar is commonly used. I for one did not start developing for the GNOME platform until the arrival of Ximian’s .NET implementation, Mono. As soon as C# hit my eye, GNOME gained one more developer that would have otherwise been absent from the GNOME developer base. Consider this effect on a large scale when these technologies not only exist, and not only become mature, but are packaged attractively to draw developers to the alternative platform, as Microsoft has diligently done in the past with its platform.

Considering the horizon, the challenge from Longhorn is great – but more importantly, so is the opportunity. Finally, MS is actually doing some innovating as opposed to “embracing”, and the competition between Linux and Windows becomes real.

About the author:
I am a Linux and GNOME user that happens to love software development. I’ve also interned at MS and plan returning there (for another internship), and over the past year have noticed and enjoyed monitoring some interesting developments in the OSS community in relation to Microsoft developer tools and technologies.


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