According to this story at CNET News, after much publicized delays Microsoft will be readying the first Longhorn beta this coming June.
This sure come as great news despite of the fact we are still far from the actual OS release. Also to be considered is that Longhorn plans have been greatly affected since it was first announced, WinFS, a revamped file system has been delayed further and won't make it to Longhorn while Avalon (UI) and Indigo (Web services) won't be exclusive to the new OS but will also make it to Windows XP.
"There will be a beta 1 of Longhorn...happening in the first half of this year," John Montgomery, a director in Microsoft's developer division, said during an interview at VSLive, a conference devoted to the company's Visual Studio .Net toolkit. The release will be primarily aimed at developers, Montgomery said. "I do, however, expect that you will find IT departments starting to look at it, kick the tires, figure out what's in it and what's not in it."