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Windows codename Longhorn is, without a doubt, the most visually-exciting time in Windows development. With planning for the OS beginning ~2000 and ultimately ending in 2007 as Windows Vista, it saw the end of the Jim Allchin era of Windows and ushered in one Steven Sinofsky, who was recently let go of after the completion of Windows 8.
Until its cancellation and reset in 2004, Windows Longhorn was an overly-exciting prospect for Windows enthusiasts and developers. Instead of dividing users and forcing a completely newfangled UI upon its users, Windows Longhorn sought to extend and enhance the familiar. While Windows Vista may have looked close enough to Longhorn, it was nowhere near it to those of us who grew along with Longhorn through its early years.
With the news of Steven Sinofsky leaving Microsoft, I am once again excited by the prospect of what's possible for Windows. With this gallery, I seek not only to demonstrate the evolution of a the most exciting UI Microsoft has ever envisioned for Windows, but more importantly, to convey some semblance of the enthusiastic passion developers and users had for Windows: a passion long since lost that I think Microsoft should focus on reclaiming.
So with that, grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and click-through to see a vision of Windows you either forgot about or have never even seen.
In the beginning, there was the sidebar! Early thinking in this area consisted of everything from the Microsoft Research team (via an application called Sideshow) to the MSN and Windows team collaborating on visual mock-ups, like the one pictured above. The sidebar was going to be a centerpiece in Windows Longhorn, giving you instant access to the information you most wanted to see -- everything from contacts, to news, to documents and more.
Although a the sidebar made it into Windows Vista, it was more of an afterthought by then, existing as a separate application that was ultimately unutilized and quickly abandoned.
In 2001, flash mock-ups were created to showcase what a finalized Windows Longhorn might look like. Many different UIs were created, but only one was chosen to be the model designers and developers would code into Windows development. This particular demo spawned the Plex (the name of the theme used in M3-M4 builds) era of Longhorn development at Microsoft. Subsequent themes used were Slate, Jade, and various forms of Aero.
As you can see in this screen shot, there were massive changes planned for the Windows shell.