Microsoft Corp. is driving toward its goal of shipping the next client and server versions of Windows in tandem. But the effort will come at the expense of a few wish-list server features, according to high-ranking company officials.The move to jettison technical baggage in the name of release date parity is a new one for the Redmond, Wash., developer but one that company officials say has more merit, from an internal-efficiency perspective, than they realized. In a wide-ranging interview last week here at WinHEC, Jim Allchin, Microsofts group vice president of platforms, said the strategy shift will mean doing things differently—such as scaling back the vision for the "Longhorn" server feature set.
"The coordination effort means that the server will not have as many features as it would have had when we planned to release it two to three years after the client," Allchin said.
Today, company officials say the Longhorn client and server versions are expected to ship just months apart—a major schedule change from a year ago, when officials expected the server to ship from one to three years after the client.
Tandem release dates were the early plan for the Windows XP client and server as well, but those ended up shipping two years apart. This time, Allchin said, Microsoft is "putting the dollars there, and I anticipate [what happened with XP] wont happen again. We didnt think internally that the pain with XP was going to be as bad as it turned out to be, and none of us want to do it again."
Allchin wouldnt specify which features are being cut from the server, but he said hes willing to cut even more. "I would cut other features without even thinking about it to make sure that I do a great job on security," he said. "But there are things we wished that we could do that weve now decided to move to Blackcomb [the version after Longhorn].
"The one thing about Longhorn is that the quality is going to be there. Security is going to be addressed," Allchin said. "We have done a very good job with Windows XP SP2 [Service Pack 2], and we are redoubling, tripling, our efforts to ensure that the quality base is beyond anything weve ever done."
But not everyone is impressed with Microsofts Longhorn vision. A software engineer who requested anonymity said it is likely that by the time Longhorn actually ships, it may look very different from what is being touted today. Microsoft also must have 64-bit support in Longhorn, said the engineer, since users are "going to need 64-bit computing just to boot [the operating system]. Microsoft really needs something to cause people to have to buy new computers, since people just dont upgrade the operating system once its preinstalled at the factory."
Microsoft is also taking a "hard bet" on the adoption rate of 64-bit computing, said Allchin. But he said he expects the adoption to move rapidly, with few compatibility issues "other than the drivers, which could slow it down, and thats another reason why we have to take a hard bet on it," he said.
Allchin confirmed that Microsoft is planning a 32-bit version in addition to a 64-bit version of Longhorn, although he did leave the door slightly open for change. "We will have a 64-bit version of Longhorn, no question," he said. "Will we have a 32-bit version? The plan is yes, but if we learn a lot between now and then, that might change. But right now we are staying the course, and it is so hard to predict how fast the run rate will be. We know where [Advanced Micro Devices Inc.] will be, we know pretty much where Intel [Corp.] will be. I think we just have to wait a little bit."
Other issues facing Microsoft, said Allchin, are the eventual end of legacy Windows platform support and Longhorn "lock-in," something Red Hat Inc. addressed last week when it unveiled its Red Hat Desktop.
But Allchin said Microsoft is cognizant of the end-of-life aspects, and "we will do the right thing. The big thing is that if someone is really looking ahead, they are going to be thinking about the next generation of applications and they are going to want to move to Longhorn. It will take [competitors] a long time to clone the core technologies we have in Longhorn," he said.
Microsoft is also moving to address the growing concern by some customers that in 2002 signed up for its three-year Licensing 6.0 and Software Assurance plan but whose contracts expire before Longhorn ships. The company was already providing those accounts with additional software, and "there will be even more software that we will be announcing later this year that will be available to those accounts," Allchin said.
But Jack Beckman, an application programming manager for Service Centers Corp., in Southfield, Mich., said he is not convinced. "I personally dont see where we have received much value from the current Software Assurance agreement," Beckman said. "Since it appears well get no upgrades from our current agreement, I dont see much point in entering into another one. But if better support were included, that might be different."
Allchin said he still sees IBM as Microsofts biggest competitor. "I think a few of us have always seen IBM leading the Linux charge, and [it] is a huge competitor for us on that front and probably leads our top of mind [in that regard]," he said.