The effects of Microsoft Corp.s recent "Longhorn" changes are trickling down to the developer division and could ultimately impact the companys tool strategy.
Microsoft officials earlier this month announced the company is cutting some key features, such as the WinFS file system, from Longhorn, the next major version of Windows, to meet its late-2006 deadline. That time frame, however, is also putting in question two significant development efforts: "Orcas," a future version of the Visual Studio tool set, and "Avalon," Longhorns presentation-layer subsystem.
"We always said [Orcas] was [in] the Longhorn wave, plus probably three to six months," said Soma Somasegar, corporate vice president of Microsofts developer division. "In the new plan, Orcas is still part of the Longhorn wave."
But because Longhorn wont be ready until late 2006, developers can get a head start with the "Whidbey" version of the tool set, due next summer, Somasegar said. "The previous plan of record before we made all these changes was that we would ship Longhorn and then we would have a tool set [Orcas] that we would target at that system," Somasegar said in an exclusive interview with eWEEK during the VSLive conference in Orlando, Fla., last week.
"Nonetheless, we also said in the old plan of record, if youre a developer and you want to develop a Longhorn app using the new managed interfaces and the like, you do not need to wait for Orcas," Somasegar said.
For those developers, they can take the Visual Studio 2005 (Whidbey) tool set to write programs using the Longhorn SDK (software development kit), he said. Those applications will run on Longhorn.
Missing in Visual Studio 2005 are some specific application designers targeted at the Longhorn components, namely Avalon and "Indigo," Somasegar said.
In the new plan, Somasegar said, developers should get most of the functionality they need in Whidbey, enabling them to be ready when Longhorn arrives. "Whidbey is the tool set you want to use to start building Longhorn apps," he said.
Sources, however, said the delivery of Avalon, the presentation subsystem of Longhorn, is still not assured for 2006 and that its fate is hanging in the balance. "They indeed are pushing out WinFS," said one developer with close ties to Microsoft, who requested anonymity. The internal word is that "Avalon could end up like WinFS if it misses its milestone. Theyre laying the groundwork for [Avalon] to be shipped later, as a separate component."
Asked whether Avalon will be cut from Longhorn, Somasegar replied: "We absolutely thought about that. There are three endpoints to the triangle. Youve got features, youve got quality, and youve got time to market. Theres a balance that you need to strike between those three things."
Mike Sax, CEO of Sax Software Inc., of Eugene, Ore., said pulling Avalon would be "a disaster."
"I cant imagine they would do that," Sax said. "The whole consumer appeal in Longhorn comes from Avalon. There would definitely be a serious too-little, too-late feeling, and it would take some incredible spin to position it as an appealing upgrade."
Don Demsak, an XML expert and independent developer in Rockaway, N.J., agreed that pulling Avalon would be bad, but he doubts Microsoft will do it. "They would lose a lot of respect with the developers out there," he said. "We all knew WinFS was a bit aggressive, so it didnt surprise us that it was removed. But Avalon is a totally different thing."
Somasegar also acknowledged that the MBF (Microsoft Business Framework), which is tied to WinFS functionality, will likely be delayed until 2007 but that Microsoft is looking to speed its delivery.
"Were also starting to look at whether there is a way to accelerate the delivery of MBF, and the teams are working through plans," he said. "If we continue with the dependency on WinFS, itll be in 2007, whenever WinFS ships."
Mary Jo Foley of Microsoft Watch contributed to this report.