During the past few weeks, I've written a lot about security-related topics for Windows & .NET Magazine publications. The topic is somewhat dear to my heart but also quite topical, unfortunately, because of the recent spate of electronic attacks on Windows-based systems around the world and Microsoft's efforts to step up to the challenges. During this time, I've received a vast amount of reader email, and clearly, security polarizes readers like no other topic. Some believe that Microsoft will never get security right and that the company is leading its users down an ever-escalating path of data and privacy loss; others feel that the battle is beginning to favor the good guys. Whatever your take on this topic, let's step away and examine a few other pertinent concerns this week, which I hope won't start another heated debate.
As I write this, I'm in Los Angeles for Microsoft's epic Professional Developers Conference (PDC) 2003, a 7000-attendee confab for developers. However, this year's conference is probably drawing other technical people as well because PDC 2003 is the coming-out party for Microsoft's next two technology waves: the Yukon wave, concentrated around the next Microsoft SQL Server version, and the Longhorn wave, concentrated on the next Windows version. PDC 2003 is mostly about Longhorn, and this will be the first time the public sees and learns about this important upcoming release directly from the source. The conference is bound to be interesting and revealing.
From the perspective of Day 0, however, which is what Microsoft calls the day before Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates's keynote, not much is going on yet, so I'll defer much of this discussion to a future date. However, one interesting development has already come up that might be of interest to UPDATE readers: Microsoft will distribute the first widely available build of Windows Longhorn, build 4051, this week to PDC 2003 attendees and later to MSDN Universal subscribers and, I'm told, to anyone wanting to pay small shipping and handling fees. Longhorn 4051 actually leaked out through the Internet over the weekend, and I've been investigating it for the past day or so. What I see--which, to be fair, is a very incomplete version of the product--is a minor upgrade to Windows XP with some interesting improvements in the file system, installation process, and user-interaction features. I'm told that Microsoft executives will demonstrate some dramatic improvements at the show and that these features will be turned on in later betas, which will be more properly beta tested with the traditional tech beta crowd. This build, alas, is for developers who need to get started early with Longhorn. And early doesn't even begin to describe where we're at in the process. At the earliest, Longhorn will ship in late 2005--more than 2 years from now. I'll have more about this topic in a future commentary, but if you're interested in Longhorn, I do have a slew of PDC 2003-related content available on the SuperSite for Windows; I'll be updating that site every day this week as the show progresses.
Laptop of the Month: Dell Latitude D800
A month and a half ago, I replaced my main desktop computer at home with Dell's stunning Latitude D800, a Pentium M-based wide-screen laptop that takes mobile computing to new levels of performance and capability. Like last month's laptop, HP's Compaq Presario X1012, the Latitude D800 is a true desktop replacement. When equipped for travel, the Latitude D800 weighs about 7 pounds, so it's not a device you'll want if you spend most of your time at conventions and hotels. But if you thought a laptop couldn't take on some of the fastest desktops and provide stunning battery life, think again--the Latitude D800 is a Size- and weight-wise, the Latitude D800 is slightly heavier and bulkier than the Presario X1012. The Latitude D800 features a nice, one-hand-operation "Bugs Bunny" latch on the front that makes opening the screen easy. The machine has a 1.6GHz Pentium M processor, an NVIDIA GeForce4 4200 Go video card, and 512MB of RAM, which combine to deliver impressive performance and excellent frame rates in the latest 3-D games. The Latitude D800 screen is an epic expanse of space, and although you can configure it in a variety of high resolutions, I chose the eye-friendly 1280 x 800 choice for the review system. On such a screen, applications such as Microsoft Office Outlook 2003, Adobe Photoshop, and Microsoft Excel take on an all-new persona, with vast amounts of horizontal room. Wide screens are a true productivity booster.
The Latitude D800 comes equipped with a CD-RW/DVD combo drive, three USB 2.0 ports, a four-pin FireWire port, one PC card slot, Gigabit Ethernet network, a modem, and the usual selection of legacy ports. You can configure this system in true Intel Centrino style, with an Intel 802.11b wireless adapter, or go for speed and get Dell's more impressive 802.11b/g card, which delivers up to 54Mbps on a Wireless-G network. I definitely recommend the faster model.
Dell offers a unique docking station option, which lets you mount the Latitude D800 (or other Dell systems) and a port replicator on a swiveling, adjustable-height platform you can place on a desktop surface. Attach a keyboard and mouse and lock in the Latitude D800, and you have a full-featured workstation. Flip a switch and pick up the laptop, and you're good to go, with no wires and plugs to mess with. This option, which will set you back a few hundred dollars extra, cements the Latitude D800's purpose as a desktop replacement for the occasionally mobile or, as I like to think about it, the locally mobile. The option is great for people who don't travel with their laptop, but would like to take it around the office or home each day and wirelessly work from another room.
If the Latitude D800 has any flaws, they're minor. Compared with some of the IBM systems I've tested recently, the Latitude D800's keyboard felt a bit low quality to me and makes a slight clicking sound when used. And although the unit features dual pointing devices, which I usually like, the mouse buttons for the eraser-head point device were too difficult to press, rendering them nearly useless. Of course, neither of these shortcomings is a problem when the system is docked, and even in regular use they're definitely not a deal-breaker. Overall, the Latitude D800 is an excellent performer, with more than 4 hours of battery life (thanks to the Pentium M processor) and Dell's vaunted quality. I highly recommend this device.