Can Microsofts Longhorn Pull it Off?

By Steve Gillmor  |  Posted 2003-11-24

Can Microsofts Longhorn Pull it Off?

With Microsoft aiming for a "Longhorn" ship date in 2006, were all settling in for two years—at least—of messages from Microsoft about how eager we should be for the next generation of Windows and how patient we should be while waiting for it.

But Microsoft will have to do better than its done so far in convincing its developer constituency that the wait will be worthwhile. The company may have opened a can of worms when it suggested that developers should create applications using the W3Cs XSD (XML Schema Definition) language and then redevelop them on "WinFS" two years later, when Longhorn is ready. It sounds improbable, but that is indeed Microsofts message if you listen closely to top Microsoft development managers.

A key inducement for migrating to Longhorn is WinFS. FS means future storage, and the scheme is a new file storage system that will make it easier to store and find data. Instead of leveraging the XSD standard, Microsoft designers rolled a new schema language to handle WinFS new capabilities. Don Box, co-author of the original SOAP specification and now a key architect of Microsofts XML Web services stack and Indigo messaging bus system, explained why: "It would be a mistake to bastardize XSD to describe something it wasnt intended to describe."

As for suggestions to keep XSD and augment it with WinFS extensions, Box takes no prisoners: "XML Schema has already eclipsed C++ in terms of complexity. Adding yet another layer on top to model WinFS-isms not directly expressible would only make matters worse."

Clearly, Microsoft wants developers to create tomorrows applications on Longhorn and WinFS. Right?

So why did Dare Obasanjo, program manager for .Net Framework XML schema technologies, have this to say: "The W3C XML Schema Definition language is far from being targeted for elimination from Microsofts actively developed portfolio." Obasanjo listed a dozen Microsoft products using XSD, including "Yukon," Visual Studio .Net, "Indigo," Word, Excel and InfoPath.


The last three form the core of Office System 2003, which Bill Gates touted as the strategic development platform for the near future at the New York launch. With Longhorn still far away, Microsoft is asking developers to invest in XSD for now—only to have to unlearn and migrate when Longhorn appears in 2006.

Its muddy messages like this that drive developers toward the exits. Remember the outcry from Visual Basic programmers about the rewrite costs of moving to VB .Net? It made the move to Java easier for enterprise IT managers to rationalize.

In another Longhorn veer-away from standards, the "Avalon" subsystems XAML (Transaction Authority Markup Language) breaks out layout of text, images and controls from event and logic processing.

Chief Software Architect Gates may be hoping to partition his troops into more malleable groups: visual designers using new XAML-aware IDEs such as the rumored "Sparkle" and the more expensive coders, lured back to the fold from Java or co-opted from scripting platforms such as Python by Common Language Runtime.

Perhaps Microsoft will offer Sparkle add-ons to automate the porting of Office System code to WinFS. Or supply a Web service layer in the cloud to mask the transition while renovations are under way.

For those who dont fully believe in truth, justice and the Microsoft way, there will be defections in the ranks. Some will move to Suns warm, VB-like Rave embrace; others to Microsoft refugee Adam Bosworths WebLogic Workshop; even some to Flex, Macromedias Flash-based server and presentation-tier framework due next year.

Unless Microsoft can deliver a Longhorn Lite—or another clear migration strategy—to Office developers in the near future, the momentum may switch to rich Internet platforms from Apple, Sun or even a revived Novell. At risk is Longhorns strongest asset—its inevitability.

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Contributing Editor Steve Gillmor is editor of eWEEK.coms Messaging and Collaboration Center. His e-mail address is

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