Microsoft is promising a slew of new features and functionality for its Windows Longhorn client and server releases. However, the Redmond software vendor recently offered more details on other radical changes on tap for Longhorn, in terms of how the operating system will be built and deployed.

Company officials have been talking for more than a year about plans to make Longhorn more “modular.” In the past two weeks, however, Microsoft execs have shed more light on exactly what this means.

The desktop version of Longhorn is expected to ship in 2006. Longhorn Server is due out in 2007, Microsoft brass confirmed earlier this week.

Read more here about Microsoft’s efforts to put the client and server releases better in sync.

Currently, Windows Server customers have a choice of four versions from which to choose: Web, Standard, Enterprise, Datacenter.

However, by the time Longhorn Server rolls around, Microsoft plans to allow customers to pick and choose among a variety of operating-system components, as opposed to four finished SKUs. (In this case, “components” does not mean software objects. Instead, it simply refers to discrete modules.)

Components will be grouped together as “roles.” In deploying their systems, Longhorn Server users will be prompted to select from a handful of pre-established roles. Microsoft officials offered as examples of the Longhorn Server roles that the company currently expects to make available:

  • DNS (Domain Name Server)
  • DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) Server
  • File Server
  • Virtual Server
  • Static Web Server
  • WINS (Windows Internet Name Service)
  • Branch Server

A mid-size business might opt for the Branch Server role, for example. Instead of obtaining a “generic” Longhorn Server release with all the bells and whistles, the user would get a customized variant optimized for WAN connectivity, data replication and souped-up caching.

Jim Livingston, lead program manager with Microsoft’s Windows Server architecture team, talked up this new componentization model at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Seattle last week. He told attendees that the Longhorn Server componentization capability “should reduce the test matrix, improve security and increase performance.”

But Microsoft isn’t yet spelling out how (or for whom) componentization will provide these benefits. Microsoft officials say it’s too early to talk about how the company plans to price or package Longhorn Server, and whether this new component model would affect pricing or packaging.

Meanwhile, Microsoft plans to extend this “componentization” architecture to the desktop version of Longhorn. At last week’s WinHEC, Microsoft officials filled in attendees on its plans.

Unlike the case with Longhorn server, where the customers are the ones selecting among components, or modules, it will be PC vendors doing the choosing when it comes to the desktop version, according to Mark Myers, senior program manager with Microsoft’s industry engagement and engineering unit.

Today, when a new version of Windows is ready for launch, Microsoft delivers to OEMs a gold master CD, known as the OEM Preinstallation Kit (OPK). OEMs use the OPK to create system images for new machines.

At WinHEC, Microsoft handed out an alpha version of Longhorn. Click here to read more.

“Today, operating system installation is designed for the retail and end-user scenario,” Myers explained. “The operating system is designed with (hardware) dependencies, which force (OEMs) to create lots of images. There can be thousands of images to maintain.”

All this is going to evolve, as of Longhorn, Myers said.

“There are lots of changes coming in Longhorn, from an [OEM] set-up perspective,” Myers said. “Every release of Longhorn will be built from the ground up, from a list of components.

“Longhorn in the future will be building blocks,” Myers said. “It’s [like] Legos.

To read the full story, click here.

Check out’s Windows Center at for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis. Be sure to add our Windows news feed to your RSS newsreader or My Yahoo page: