So long, Longhorn

Microsoft tried to get users drooling with the promise that DirectX graphics would be wired into Longhorn's Windows UI. Fast rendering, smooth motion, embedded 3-D, transparency and so on. These are seemingly little things, but Apple proved with Aqua that the user's experience is paramount. A user spends more time in front of his or her computer if mixes a bit of fun and glamour to spice up the ho-hum text and

Microsoft tried to get users drooling with the promise that DirectX graphics would be wired into Longhorn's Windows UI. Fast rendering, smooth motion, embedded 3-D, transparency and so on. These are seemingly little things, but Apple proved with Aqua that the user's experience is paramount. A user spends more time in front of his or her computer if mixes a bit of fun and glamour to spice up the ho-hum text and spreadsheets.

Anyone who has played with DirectX and Windows Media, and predecessors Direct3D and DirectShow, has a clue about how powerful these technologies are. Microsoft quietly built digital video editing and video device control into every version of Windows since 3.11. Nobody knew about it because Apple owned the pro and desktop video markets. But Microsoft put it there, and enhanced it over the years with high-quality codecs. Windows can pull in DV (medium-quality digital video) files, scrub and edit them in real-time, and send them back out to DV with 2D and 3D effects and transitions. With no pauses for rendering. Very, very cool, but known only to programmers of video editors and video games.

For those of us who make frequent use of DirectX and Windows Media, Microsoft's promise to wire them into the Windows core user interface was a thrilling prospect. But Microsoft switched gears, sandbagging Longhorn in favor of a server products drive. Apple saw that delay as an opportunity and steamrolled right through it.

I won't go into a lot of detail here about the "holy ****!" value of weaving OpenGL and QuickTime more tightly into Aqua. Watch the WWDC keynote video and you'll see what I mean. Desktop hijinx like expose (visualize the accent over the final "e") provide a highly functional tease of future potential. Fast user switching renders a pair of full-resolution desktops to the sides of a cube and flips the cube in real-time. If Microsoft delays Longhorn to 2006, as it said it might at Tech Ed, Apple has time to do some genuinely frightening things with its UI. Don't make the mistake of writing off the impact of that.

You didn't think Apple stuffed all of its systems with market-leading 3-D graphics accelerators so users could play the tiny selection of Mac games, did you?

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Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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