In the future, all of your personal and business communications - from email and instant messages to phone calls and faxes - will reside in a single central location. Or so says Microsoft, disclosing some of the features it plans for its next generation of Windows.

Company executives demonstrated a handful of the new communications features earmarked for Longhorn, due in 2006, during the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) held in Seattle this week.

Chief among Longhorn's capabilities is a communications history from which you can manage everything, according to Paul Erickson, development manager for Windows communications.

From this central location, you'll be able to sort and filter messages by various themes such as name of sender or date of conversation, according to Erickson.

For example, every time you get an email from a particular person, a copy of that message ends up in the history file under the person's name.

The next time you prepare to communicate with that person, Longhorn will automatically call up your message history.

Later, if you use other methods to communicate with the same person, the OS will tie the resulting messages together so you can see all of them.

Longhorn's communications capabilities will shine when you add voice-over-IP connectivity and a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone to the equation, Erickson says.

For example, you can add a new number to a Bluetooth phone while you're away, and your PC will automatically sync that information from the cell phone when you return, so the new data joins your communication history list.

"We want to bring your cell phone and PC together to enhance the call," says Erickson.

Longhorn will also include VoIP capabilities, so you can use a headset and microphone to receive and make calls directly through your broadband connection, according to Erickson.

Using today's caller ID capabilities, the OS will be able to tell exactly who is calling and will retrieve the relevant communication history even before you answer the call.

While you're talking, the OS will offer a note-taking option so you can type up references from the conversation.

And when you hang up, Longhorn will automatically save those along with other details about the person, giving you easy access to what was said when you make contact again.

"We want to help you place that call, we want to help you during that call, and we want to help you wrap up that call," Erickson says.

Once Longhorn has gathered multiple contact points for a person, you can easily access them all, Erickson notes.

For example, if you get an email message from someone whose information is already stored in the system, you can dial them up or send them an instant message with a single mouse click.

Longhorn will also ensure that you don't miss an important call if you're already on the line or away from your desk.

If you're on the phone, Longhorn can pop up a desktop alert that invites you to enter a message to the incoming caller without ending your first call.

If you're out of the office, the software can alert you to messages or even forward calls to your cell phone.

If all of these clever features are to be effective, numerous industries must work with Microsoft to get the software and hardware working together, according to Erickson.

As a result, the company is asking cell phone manufacturers to begin implementing the necessary changes now to make their products work well with Longhorn later.