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A First Look at Longhorn
Pages: 1, 2, 3

New Themes

There are two new themes in Longhorn -- Slate and Jade. Figure 12 shows the Jade theme -- a combination of silver and blue. The new themes have received a lot of comments and criticisms from testers on the Web. But I think it is still too early to judge the looks since the final product may be drastically different.

And as a Mac user I find the theme eerily similar to Mac OS X. However, expect more themes to appear in subsequent builds.

Figure 12
Figure 12. The new Jade theme.

3D Desktop

One of the most impressive features in Longhorn is no doubt the Avalon Desktop Windows Manager (DWM). Avalon is the new 3D GUI in Longhorn. If you are lucky enough (that is, your hardware is powerful enough) you should be able to see it for yourself in this current build.

To invoke DWM, open up a command window and type the following command (note the directory):

C:\WINDOWS\I386>sbctl start

Wait a few seconds and you should notice that your windows are now three-dimensional (see Figure 13, and note the shadows). Again, this looks much like Mac OS X's Aqua UI.

Figure 13
Figure 13. Windows in 3D Avalon.

But that similarity ends when you press Alt-Tab! All open windows will be stacked up (see Figure 14). Each tab will cycle through the windows, with the active one displayed at the front of the window stack. I did find some inconsistencies in the implementation, but hey…this is pre-beta software!

Figure 14
Figure 14. The windows all stack up when you press Alt-Tab.

Even though I can invoke DWM on my machine, it is painfully slow. A few minutes into it I looked for a way to switch back to the 2D mode. Fortunately, it is simple:

C:\WINDOWS\I386>sbctl stop


Overall, this build of Longhorn spots some improvements in UI. Performance-wise, it is still slow for two reasons:

  • This is pre-beta software so it contains lots of debugging code. Also, the OS has not been optimized yet.

  • Microsoft expects higher hardware requirements when Longhorn eventually rolls out. Also Microsoft anticipates that 64-bit computing will be prevalent when Longhorn ships.

This piece just skims the surface of what's in Longhorn. In future articles I will dive deeper into each Longhorn feature.

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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