Leaked Longhorn features minor improvements

A third internal test version of the successor to Microsoft Corp.'s desktop Windows XP operating system was leaked onto the Internet last week, showing incremental enhancements over the version that surfaced in March, according to Windows experts.

Build 4015, also referred to as Milestone 5, of the software code-named Longhorn has its own startup logo, a screen that shows a user's settings are being loaded and a more refined search interface, according to testers who have posted screenshots of the software on various Web sites. Improvements have also been made to the sidebar, a part of the desktop that will offer a search bar and quick access to often used applications and other features.

Although build 4015 uses the Windows Preinstallation Environment, an improved setup utility and procedure to install the software, it takes longer to install than the March version, called build 4008, because of changes in the way the operating system detects devices, according to testers with BetaNews.

Microsoft is also expanding features that will support the new Windows Future Storage (WinFS) file system that will be part of Longhorn. WinFS will let users view files indexed from various physical locations instead of displaying the contents of specific folders or directories, such as "My Music" or "My Images."

WinFS replaces the NTFS and FAT32 file systems used in current Windows versions. Before appearing in Longhorn, WinFS technology is expected to premiere in a new version of Microsoft's SQL Server database, code-named Yukon, due later this year.

Microsoft acknowledges that this early Longhorn build appeared on the Web last week. However, because the software is still in development and there will likely be many changes between now and the final release, it is too early to talk about specifics of the product, the Redmond, Washington, vendor said in a statement. Longhorn is expected to hit stores at the end of 2004 or in 2005.

The Longhorn leaks are becoming somewhat suspicious, some Microsoft watchers find. This build is the third version of Longhorn to leak out and become available in news groups and IRC (Internet Relay Chat) channels.

"It is possible that Microsoft sort of lets it leak," Paul DeGroot, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Washington, said. "It might generate some feedback for Microsoft. The release of an Alpha like that is not harmful to Microsoft."

Alpha versions are generally for internal testing only, but software makers do occasionally share alpha versions with joint development partners including large customers and system builders, DeGroot said.

"The main reason Microsoft does not want alphas out is simply because they have a lot of bugs," he said. "It is a very risky proposition to start playing with this stuff. It can screw up your system. Unless you are a hard-core OS expert, the risks of using this stuff probably outweigh the benefits you are going to get."

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