Microsoft has been managing our expectations of Longhorn like a barker for Barnum & Bailey. What it has lacked in loud music and snarling 500-pound felines, it has made up for with lavish trade events, platform unveilings, and the occasional banana-snarfing, 800-pound-gorilla technology.
At last month’s WinHEC (Windows Hardware Engineering Conference), the company let loose a herd of Longhorn attractions, including support for upcoming quad-core CPUs from Intel and AMD and a five-star menu of internal features and tools, such as BitLocker drive encryption.
The updated release of Group Policy Manager is not only easier, it’s also far more granular in what administrators can control. For example, GP (Group Policy) can now control responses for different severity levels of perceived attacks; it can manage the new Background Intelligent Transfer Service Neighbor Casting feature to basically enable peer-to-peer file sharing inside the safe environment of a domain; and it has far deeper hooks into controlling the end-user experience, even controlling whether users can install specific hardware on their laptops or desktops. Add all that up, and Longhorn allows an administrator to serve up entirely new capabilities to users, while maintaining even more control of how those features are used. That’s a very difficult tightrope to walk.
But wait, there’s more! Microsoft also has completely redesigned its TCP/IP stack, now including integrated support for TCP/IPv6 and a rich layer of support APIs for more intelligent network packet management.
This redesign enabled a number of new Windows management capabilities. For one, remote server management and deployment has been significantly improved. Monitoring and patching off-site is backed by better security, improved automation, and updated diagnostics. User management is made easier across remote sites, with updated support for roaming user profiles and even smaller things such as automatically deployed printer settings. Remote users can even make easier use of Terminal Services because that feature can now be accessed via a secure HTTP call.
Digging a little deeper into application management, Longhorn is the first Windows operating system to offer what amounts to Layer 7 QoS (quality of service) capabilities. This feature is still in its early stages, but Microsoft has taken the right tack, making sure that Longhorn’s QoS profiles can filter down through third-party network infrastructure. Don’t think application protection; think hi-def voice and video protection, because that’s where this feature is really heading.
And we haven’t yet waved our barker’s hat at security. In the past, we’d have been pointing at the clown car, but Microsoft has gone to great and obvious lengths to transform a mini-Beetle full of rubber noses into the lion tamer with the flaming hoop. Redmond has cranked up Longhorn’s security features at every turn, beginning with its initial deployment lockdown, moving through its design of core server roles and especially its user management. Longhorn now uses a Unix-like user management scheme that can dictate permissions for a huge variety of user functions via the Group Policy Manager. This not only keeps users in check, it can block any number of Trojans and viruses.