Thanks to some enterprising sources at Microsoft, I've obtained the first concept screen shots for Aero, the UI for Longhorn, the next version of Windows. And although the details of Aero's design could still change dramatically before Longhorn's release in late 2005, the UI screen shots I have are indeed real, according to people I've spoken with at the company. They show an evolution of the task-based interface in today's Windows XP, with Activity Center-like windows that provide simple and easy-to-find front ends for common tasks. Microsoft representatives with whom I've discussed the screen shots note that the company is committed to ending user confusion by providing clear entry points to user tasks.
Most of the current crop of Aero screen shots concentrate on Longhorn's multimedia capabilities; this Windows version will finally fulfill Microsoft Chairman and CEO Bill Gates's goal of making Windows the center of our digital lifestyle. In Longhorn, users will be able to manage digital devices such as cameras, portable audio players, speakers, and USB memory fobs in ways that aren't possible in XP. For example, Longhorn will offer a sound volume "mix" so that users can independently control any software that generates sound; in one of the screen shots, the volume for Microsoft Outlook's new mail sound and the main speaker volume are independently controlled.
Continuing the Activity Center work that began with Windows Me, Longhorn aggregates common elements into central locations, rather than requiring users to navigate around the system and control discrete elements independently. For example, instead of requiring users to independently synchronize equipment such as portable audio devices, Pocket PCs, and USB memory fobs and software elements such as Offline Files, a new Longhorn SyncManager control panel will give users a central location for managing synchronization tasks. From this location, users will be able to set up all device and software synchronization partnerships, manage devices, and perform other related activities.
Microsoft executives have been vague about the various capabilities that the company will roll into Longhorn, but these screen shots make clear the direction Microsoft is headed. And although some people might debunk the screen shots as fake, I've received private confirmation of their authenticity. Also, I think public statements from Microsoft evangelist Robert Scoble say it all. "Some of my coworkers will get mad because I'm linking to leaked stuff, but ... it's fair game," Scoble wrote in a recent Weblog entry. "That said, my managers haven't released me from \[my nondisclosure agreement\] NDA yet so I can't say more until management shows \[Longhorn\] off publicly." To view an Aero screen shot gallery, which I'm updating regularly as I receive new screen shots, visit the SuperSite for Windows.