NEW YORK - As Microsoft Corp. prepares for the worldwide launch of its new Windows XP operating system here on Thursday, it is already looking to the future and has a large team of engineers hard at work on its next operating system release, currently code-named Longhorn.
In an interview with eWEEK ahead of Thursdays launch events, Jim Allchin, the group vice president for Windows, said the client team was already hard at work on Longhorn. "We anticipate a beta next year to begin that, with the final product shipping sometime in 2003," he said.
But the beta is still a ways off and unlikely to be released in the first part of next year as Microsoft will rely heavily on user feedback from an upcoming third beta for the Windows .Net server family. "These things are very inter-related, interlinked," Allchin said. "For Longhorn we are also not, as of now, planning on decoupling the client and the server. We will ship them both at the same time."
But that means Microsoft will have to catch up with the client once the Windows .Net servers is released. "I would not anticipate a Longhorn beta in the first part of next year," Allchin said.
The Longhorn development team is also working hard to learn from the usability of Windows XP and how to take advantage of the class framework from its Visual Studio .Net product work to "try and understand how we can provide more managed interfaces and other things," he said.
While Allchin declined to be more specific about the features and innovations planned for Longhorn, he did say it would have "improvements that weve learned from customers using Windows XP," he said. "While we have a general outline of the vision for it, now is not the time to talk about that. Today is the day to celebrate Windows XP."
From XP, to Longhorn, to "Blackcomb"
He was also reluctant to give many details about the operating system release that will follow Longhorn, currently code-named Blackcomb, which is expected to ship sometime in 2005. Allchin said Microsoft currently had a small team working on the software and trying to prototype some of the concepts for it.
"But this will be a small team which will grow over time," he said. "Its the version after Longhorn, so its a long ways out."
Asked whether Blackcomb would be the .Net version of Windows that could be delivered in ways other than as a packaged product, Allchin said there was "zero" effort going into thinking about a new business model for Windows.
"One should not confuse the .Net technology with the sales model," he said. "These are two totally different things and I think we may surprise people in what we can do with technology in Longhorn."
Given that the bulk of Microsofts business relationships are with OEMs, it matters little whether the software is ultimately delivered via the Web or on a CD. "[OEM partners] actually clock us in terms of seconds as to how long it takes them to load onto a machine because that saves them money," Allchin said. "But we are considering a variety of ways of delivering code to those customers trying to upgrade."
Asked if Microsoft had plans to host Windows going forward, Allchin was rather vague. "Obviously Office .Net is considering those sort of things which would be using our technology," he said. "But that is not a business model that the platforms area is trying to figure out."
Glancing at the Windows Roadmap
Going forward, Allchin said the third beta of the Windows .Net server family will be released next month. The server family consists of the entry-level file and print Windows Server, the mid-level symmetric multiprocessing Windows Advanced Server and Windows Datacenter server, targeted at the mainframe.
While Microsoft had hoped to ship the final products in the first half of next year, the exact timing will depend on the feedback Microsoft receives from clients around the beta. "We only factor a small amount of feedback, but if we get more than that then well change the date," he said. "Thats just what we have to do."
Microsoft is also listening to a lot of customer feedback about Windows 2000 on the server side to decide what we do next, he added.
Responding to criticism that the server release had been pushed out at the expense of the client, Allchin said Microsoft had also made a decision to prioritize the Windows XP client over the server to get it out quickly. "The PC industry needed it and we certainly wanted Windows XP for the holiday season if we could accomplish that," he said. "I think we made the right choice there."
That is borne out by recent statements from executives of the largest PC makers, who have high hopes that Windows XP will help drive a wave of new PC sales – particularly around the holidays - and lift the industry from its current doldrums.
Industrys Elite Due To Show Support
Microsoft has rounded up some of the biggest names in the technology industry to join the company on stage as it celebrates the launch of XP on Thursday. It is hosting a round-table discussion with the whos who of technology as well as sponsoring a free concert featuring Sting at Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan.
Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates will attend the round-table discussion early Thursday morning before taking the stage to deliver his keynote address. Also slated to participate are a host of CEOs including Craig Barrett from Intel, Carly Fiorna of Hewlett-Packard Co., Michael Dell of Dell Computer Corp., Atsutoshi Nishida from Toshiba, Ted Waitt of Gateway Inc., Michael Capellas from Compaq Computer Corp., and Keiji Kimura of Sony.
Allchin said Microsoft and its OEM partners hoped to be able to give a tally of those PCs that have already been sold pre-loaded with Windows XP, but he admitted market conditions are tight and that it was difficult to forecast sales numbers. But Microsoft had been "very conservative" in its numbers in the business plan, he said.
Allchin will join Gates on stage during the keynote and will talk about and demonstrate key technologies in XP. Also joining him will be a representative from motor group BMW to talk about its adoption and usage of XP as an enterprise.