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A Guided Tour of the Newest Longhorn Build

by Wei-Meng Lee

I had a chance to play with the Windows Longhorn operating system about a year ago and wrote an overview of the features available in that build, which is 4074. (See A First Look at Longhorn.) One year later, Microsoft has released a newer build of Longhorn (5048) and made it available to attendees of WinHEC 2005. So, how much has changed, and how close are we to getting the real thing?

In this article, I'll give you a guided tour of the current build of Longhorn and examine some of the changes to the Windows UI. While this build is not specifically designed for end users, it's worth a look, especially if you are looking forward to the next release of Windows.

Setting Up Longhorn

Once you have obtained the Longhorn DVD, you can proceed with the setup. For my testing, I used Microsoft Virtual PC. There is a bug with the current build of Longhorn--the setup does not work correctly for Virtual PC. When installing Longhorn to a new virtual drive, Setup couldn't see the unformatted virtual drive. To solve this, you need to use a formatted virtual disk from another virtual machine so that Setup can proceed.

Testing Longhorn

Once Longhorn is installed, you will see the familiar startup screen (see Figure 1).

Figure 1
Figure 1. The Longhorn startup screen

By default, Longhorn will automatically log in as Administrator without a password. Even after you have created a password for the Administrator account, subsequent logins are hard-coded to use the Administrator account with no password. Fortunately, though, you are prompted with the login window to enter a user name and password.

Figure 2 shows the Longhorn desktop with the Start menu.

Figure 2
Figure 2. The Longhorn desktop with the Start menu

If you click on the Start menu and select All Programs, the list of programs is displayed within the Start menu (instead of displaying another menu list from which to select the program you want to launch). For example, if you click on Accessories, a list of programs under the Accessories category will be displayed within the menu (together with a vertical scroll bar; see Figure 3). To some people, this is a neat idea, but to others it looks ugly.

Figure 3
Figure 3. The programs listed within the Start menu

I'm still a big fan of the classic Start menu, and you can change it in Longhorn. Figure 4 shows the classic Start menu.

Figure 4
Figure 4. The classic Start menu in Longhorn

One notable new feature in this build of Longhorn is the inclusion of a text box situated under the All Programs item in the Start menu (see Figure 5). Type in the name of an application, and a list of programs matching your input will display as you type. I think this is quite a good feature, as you need not navigate through the Start menu to launch a program.

Figure 5
Figure 5. Finding an application to launch

One notable omission in this build is that the Sidebar is no longer available (see my earlier article, A First Look at Longhorn). That is a pity, since the Sidebar is one of Longhorn's useful features.

Windows Explorer

In Longhorn, Microsoft is doing away with the "My" nomenclature, such as My Computer, My Documents, and so forth. In the current build, My Computer is now Computer (see Figure 6; visible when you switch the Start menu to Classic view) and My Network Places now becomes Network(WORKGROUP). You still have My Documents, but its name will likely be changed in the final release.

Figure 6
Figure 6. Changes in naming nomenclature

Figure 7 shows Windows Explorer. Note that the usual shortcuts and navigational links displayed in the left of the Windows Explorer (in Windows XP) have been relocated to the top of the window, below the menu bar. The default theme selected in Longhorn is "Aero," which has a brushed-metal effect similar to that of its rival operating system, Mac OS X.

Figure 7
Figure 7. Windows Explorer has a new look

When you are displaying files in Icons view (View -> Icons), you can change the size of the icons dynamically by selecting the View button in the toolbar (see Figure 8).

Figure 8
Figure 8. Changing the size of the icons

You can also directly navigate to another directory by selecting the buttons in the toolbar (see Figure 9).

Figure 9
Figure 9. Directly navigating to another directory

The Search box located at the top-right corner of the screen is a little misleading (see Figure 10). It says "Type to Search," but typing in this text box and pressing Enter does not return a list of search results. Instead, it merely filters the content in the current view based on what you typed in the text box.

Figure 10
Figure 10. Filtering the content viewed

Control Panel

The Control Panel supports two views, Category and Classic. Figure 11 shows the Control Panel displayed in Classic view.

Figure 11
Figure 11. The Control Panel in Classic view

Figure 12 shows the Control Panel in Category view.

Figure 12
Figure 12. The Control Panel in Category view


The Control Panel includes an item called the Indexing Options (see Figure 13); this item can also be located in the system tray.

Figure 13
Figure 13. The Indexing Options item in the Control Panel

The Indexing Options item lets you configure how the indexing should work on your computer (see Figure 14). This is similar to the Windows Desktop Search tool that Microsoft recently released.

Figure 14
Figure 14. Configuring the indexing options

To search, click on the magnifying glass icon (see Figure 15) and you can fine-tune your search query. For my testing, I had no luck with the searching. It just didn't seem to work.

Figure 15
Figure 15. Using the search feature

Internet Explorer

Longhorn includes Internet Explorer 6 (see Figure 16), which is what you already have in Windows XP.

Figure 16
Figure 16. Internet Explorer on Longhorn

However, there is one interesting option in the Tools menu (see Figure 17). The Clear Browsing Records item clears the content in the Temporary Internet Files, Cookies, History, and all form data and stored passwords. This is a useful option, even though this action can be accomplished through the Internet Options items. Still, it is a good addition, as it makes it easier to clean up your trails--especially when you're using a public computer.

Figure 17
Figure 17. New menu item in IE6

Besides this, the IE in Longhorn is almost the same as that in Windows XP. I was hoping to see tabbed browsing supported in this version of IE, but disappointingly it is not to be seen.

Enabling 3-D Desktop

One of the most impressive features in Longhorn is the Avalon Desktop Windows Manager (DWM). Avalon is the new 3-D GUI in Longhorn. In this build, you need to do some tweaking on the Registry in order to get the DWM working. Although I wasn't able to get it to run on my virtual PC, here are the instructions (from those who managed to make it work):

  1. Create a text file and name it EnableDWM.reg. Type the following into the file:
Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

  1. In the Run box of the Start menu, type services.msc to launch the Services window.
  2. Double-click on User Experience Session Management Service (see Figure 18), and change the Startup type from Disabled to Automatic.

Figure 18
Figure 18. The Services window

  1. Double-click on the EnableDWM.reg file to add the key to the Registry. When prompted, click on Yes.
  2. Reboot your computer.

DWM is now enabled.


Overall, this build of Longhorn is somewhat disappointing, at least from the perspective of UI enhancements. However, it is too early to pass judgment, because Longhorn won't ship until 2006 at the earliest. Moreover, Longhorn build 5048 was designed primarily for device driver writers and, as such, does not focus on the user interface experience.

Wei-Meng Lee (Microsoft MVP) is a technologist and founder of Developer Learning Solutions, a technology company specializing in hands-on training on the latest Microsoft technologies.

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