April 28, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

Longhorn will run on some older PCs too

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SEATTLE--Although Microsoft is recommending that computers be pretty modern to fully run the next version of Windows, Longhorn will probably also run on a good number of older machines.

That's the good news. The bad news is that Longhorn is going to look and run quite differently on those older systems. Computers with a 3GHz processor and 512MB of memory, for example, will get all of the bells and whistles including fancy graphics and the ability to handle multiple video streams. According to its early testing, Microsoft says that older PCs--probably those with as little as 128MB of memory--will be able to run Longhorn, but the OS may not look like it does on a newer, more powerful machine.

Many of these older machines that run Longhorn will have experiences that are "quite XP-like," said Richard Russell, a developer in Microsoft's Windows core operating system division.

"XP is XP is XP... Longhorn is much different. It will really scale."
--Richard Russell
developer, Microsoft

There are at least four different levels of graphics for the new Windows. Two of them--Aero and Aero Glass--will have new composited graphics, with the high-end Glass shell adding more three-dimensional effects and transitions. Another view, dubbed "To Go" is designed for laptops and other new consumer machines and has many of the same color schemes as Aero, but not the fancy graphics tricks. Finally, a classic mode will look much like XP or even Windows 2000.

But there are performance differences as well, with more-capable systems able to do more things in the new OS.

That represents a big philosophical shift for Microsoft. With past versions of Windows, including Windows XP, the operating system typically either ran on a machine in all its glory or didn't run at all.

"XP is XP is XP," Russell said. "Longhorn is much different. It will really scale."

Such variability poses a couple of challenges for the software giant. First, it has to educate businesses and consumers that being able to run Longhorn does not equate to being fully able to take advantage of all of its features. To that end, Microsoft is planning a new logo program for PCs that will separately identify machines that are optimized for Longhorn as opposed to those that are merely capable of loading the OS. The company also is working on a program that lets computer makers designate a PC as "Longhorn-ready."

A second challenge, which Microsoft said it is already planning to address, is putting the burden on the software to figure out what settings are most appropriate to the type of machine one has.

Russell said Microsoft will ensure that when people upgrade to Longhorn, settings are optimized for their machines, though users will still have the ability to change those settings.

"We don't want users to have to hunt and peck to find out if they can run (Aero) Glass," he said. Similarly, computer makers are encouraged to set defaults relative to the capabilities of their machines, though again, consumers can change those settings.

Directions on Microsoft analyst Michael Cherry believes Microsoft was too vague with its guidance on which hardware is needed for which features. Though the company offered some detail on processor and memory requirements, Cherry said, businesses still may not have enough information to know which graphics cards to look for on a new PC. He added that he was disappointed Microsoft doesn't have the "Longhorn-ready" guidelines already ironed out so that corporations can buy PCs now and know whether they will be good for the new OS.

"I don't understand why, at a hardware show, they aren't ready to give us the Longhorn-ready specification today," he said.


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This Computer old?
P4 1.4GHz
640 MB RAM
64 MB ATI 9000

I think it might shallow big rock and die.
Posted by Willy Wonker (73 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's like 1/4 of the speed of modern computers. By the time Longhorn comes out you'll have a dual core computer anyways.
Posted by sanenazok (3449 comments )
Link Flag
LOL, turbocharge OS!
Posted by Willy Wonker (73 comments )
Link Flag
640MB RAM?
I wonder how you do to your PC to make up this magic number :)
Posted by 201293546946733175101343322673 (722 comments )
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Bah! Microsoft.
Nothing for sale there. Nothing I'd want to buy, anyway. I want security so as not to be the next identity theft victim.
Posted by ordaj (338 comments )
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I second your Bah!
Seems like MS is doing a great job of leading the press, with
story after "big story" about Longhorn hitting the media day-

I'm simply burned out on Longhorn stories. Its an OS over a year
away and every time MS toggles a bit, its front-page news.

Yeah, I know. I should shut up and just stop reading the stories.
Unfortunately that's proving as difficult as not looking at the
wreckage when you drive past a crash site.

My new mantra WRT Longhorn : Where's the beef?
Posted by taznar (45 comments )
Link Flag
I'd rather it run in all its glory or NOT AT ALL!
Imagine how sad when people goto places like Costco to buy a new computer and its the same hardware thats out now...but it must be new cause it has a longhorn logo.

Bah, you must FORCE vendors to sell high end parts in standard systems or whats the point :P
Posted by FocusedWolf (24 comments )
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Only works in Soviet Union
First you'd have to force consumers (corporations who are watching the bottom line because they're going broke (or claiming to.))

The home market may be more sizable (which I doubt) but the people there don't want to change their machines on a whim because they're going broke too.

Nobody NEEDS Longhorn if it involves expenditure.

We reached the inflection point (or the "genuflecting knee",) about the same time that the dot bomb went off, which may explain why it didn't make the news.

We don't NEED or even want more power. More connectivity? Yes. More power? Why would we need more power to just run a browser?
Posted by CharlesRovira (97 comments )
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