As Microsoft approaches a major milestone in the development of Longhorn, company executives are beginning to talk a bit more about the features of the Windows XP successor.

Jim Allchin, Microsoft's group vice president in charge of Windows, says that with Longhorn, Microsoft wants to deliver an operating system that is user friendly, secure and easy to install and manage. And despite the features cut from Longhorn last year – to enable Microsoft to release it next year – the operating system will be worth the upgrade, he said.

Users will not have to worry if they will be successful when plugging a projector into a Longhorn-based laptop for a presentation, Allchin said. Also, Longhorn-based computers will instantly connect to a home network and recognise peripherals, such as printers. "It takes magic to figure that out today," he said.

When it comes to security and safety, Microsoft will give users features like parental controls for web surfing, Allchin said. And when browsing the web, Internet Explorer will run in a "protected space" so it can't impact the rest of the system, while those guards can be dropped when connected to a corporate intranet, he said.

Longhorn will also have a feature designed to protect data on a PC. "We will have something called secure startup where if you lose your laptop it won't make a difference because somebody can't load another system on there to analyse your hard disk," Allchin said.

Despite the absence of WinFS, which was meant to make it easier to find information stored on a PC, Longhorn will offer users new ways to find their documents. In a demonstration, a Microsoft employee showed how the Windows Explorer in Longhorn will display virtual folders with, for example, Word documents located anywhere on the hard disk.

Furthermore, Microsoft has added a search bar in the upper right-hand corner of Windows Explorer to help users find files. Also, in Longhorn images are shown as thumbnails instead of standard icons in Windows Explorer. The file manager will also display thumbnail sized versions of Word documents and Excel spreadsheets.

Microsoft sees Longhorn as the basis of Windows releases for the next ten years, Allchin said. As such, the operating system will be ready for the future with support for technologies such as IP (Internet Protocol) version 6.0, he said. IPv6 is a newer version of IP, which accommodates more IP addresses.

The final version of Longhorn is scheduled to be broadly available in December 2006. At that time, WinFS, the unified storage system that was clipped from Longhorn last August, will be in beta testing, Allchin said. There is no target date for a final version of WinFS, he said.