EU Heat Could Spur Interim Windows XP Release

"XP Reloaded" is expected to ship next year, officials announce as Longhorn delays alarm some Software Assurance customers who worry about their contracts expiring.

The rollout of Microsoft Corp.s next major version of Windows has been pushed back to late 2006 in large part by a two-punch combination of newly found security vulnerabilities and the impending disposition of sanctions expected from the European Union.

As a result, concern is growing among Microsoft customers, especially those that have signed Software Assurance volume license agreements with the Redmond, Wash., software developer—contracts that may expire before the new version of Windows, called "Longhorn," ships.

"Microsoft went to a lot of effort to convince us to move from the one-time software purchase upgrade model to Software Assurance," said an administrator for a volume licensee who requested anonymity. "We expected at least one client upgrade during this time. Now, it appears our agreement may expire before Longhorn even ships, and no interim release will make up for that. I want to get what I paid for; otherwise, this will have turned out to be an expensive move with little benefit."

To address those concerns, Microsoft is working on an interim Windows client release, known as "XP Reloaded," which is expected to ship next year, according to company officials. Microsoft is also considering an interim Windows Server release next year, the officials said.

While declining to comment on unannounced products, Bob Muglia, senior vice president of Microsofts Windows Server division, told eWEEK last week that the company is considering interim upgrades for Windows. "One of the reasons why we are looking at how we can get technology to market is to try and provide value to our Software Assurance customers—no question," Muglia said.

But while the company is crafting an interim plan for customers, the future of its product packaging is less certain, as legal battles overseas continue. Last week, EU antitrust regulators backed a draft resolution that found Microsoft had abused its Windows monopoly. The EU wants Microsoft to offer computer makers a version of Windows without the companys Media Player to give rivals such as RealNetworks Inc. a shot at getting onto consumer desktops. The EU is also expected to demand that Microsoft release more basic code for Windows to improve interoperability with competing networking software.

The pressures are putting a squeeze on Microsoft resources, partners said.

John Parkinson, chief technologist for the Americas at Cap Gemini Ernst and Young U.S. LLC, in Chicago, said Microsoft has moved a third of its Longhorn staff over to address a redesign of Windows XP, partly to address security vulnerabilities that have shown up and partly because Microsoft had concluded the EU was likely to make the company unbundle the platform in some way.

But to do so, Microsoft would have to redesign so much that the resource commitment would delay Longhorn, Parkinson said.

Muglia, however, denied that Longhorns shipping date had been affected by the EUs antitrust case.

"Honestly, our focus on Longhorn and the amount of resources devoted to that team have not been hugely impacted by the negotiations around the EU," Muglia said at Microsofts Management Summit here last week. "Security has impacted us; theres no question of that. And frankly, Longhorn is a very ambitious release; there are major changes coming, and we need to get it right. Well do the right thing by the EU, but that hasnt impacted Longhorn."

Next Page: Others say Microsoft wants to practice unbundling capability expected as an EU antitrust requirement.