Longhorn Delay Stirs Dismay, Delight in Developers

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2004-08-30

Longhorn Delay Stirs Dismay, Delight in Developers

Developer reaction to Microsofts decision to hold off on delivering planned parts of the next release of Windows Longhorn to meet the 2006 deadline has been mixed, with many calling it a prudent move and others outright upset by the decision.

Microsoft Corp. on Friday announced it would be making key elements of the Windows WinFX developer platform in Longhorn available for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. Microsoft will deliver the WinFS Windows storage subsystem after the release of Longhorn, the company said.

Meanwhile, Microsoft will be delivering its new presentation subsystem, code-named Avalon, and the new communication subsystem, code-named Indigo, for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 in 2006, the company said.

Read more here about Microsofts decision to gut Longhorn in order to meet the 2006 deadline.

Andrew Brust, president of N.Y.-based Progressive Systems Consulting Inc., said he saw benefits in the changes. "My immediate reaction is that nobody likes pullback announcements, but I do see the following positives: XP/2003 will get Indigo and Avalon; Longhorns schedule stays on track, along with its enhanced security, search and many UI [user interface] features," he said.

"As a developer, Im more focused on things like Whidbey [Visual Studio 2005] and Yukon [SQL Server 2005], and their schedules are unaffected by this announcement," Brust said. "Id rather see something stable and on-schedule than something thats feature-rich for its own sake, unreliable and late," Brust said.

"My biggest regret is the perception that many will have that this is a failure, when I see it as a sensible redirection," he said. "Perhaps Microsoft has that coming to them after all the Longhorn messaging at PDC [Professional Developers Conference], but Id rather see them make a sober decision than stick by 2003 messaging out of stubbornness."

Stephen Forte, chief technology officer at N.Y.-based Corzen Inc., said splitting up the project brings deadlines into clearer focus. "I think that breaking up the large project into smaller projects is a good thing," he said. "Its pretty awesome that we will get Avalon and Indigo for Win XP and Win 2003. Also, Microsoft has said Longhorn will ship in 2006, so it is good to know the dates, etc."

Brad McCabe, a senior solutions architect at Ajilon Consulting Inc., based in Baltimore, said the decision makes good business sense. "While I would love to see all of the original Longhorn technology come out from a technologist point of view, from a business point of view, I am glad that some of it will be stripped out," McCabe said. "While sometimes you need revolutionary steps to move the industry forward, it is painful, expensive and time-consuming to implement in an organization.

"The more changes, the more legacy applications that break, the more code that has to be modified and the more testing that needs to be performed," he said. "This could be a good thing for developers because by making it a smaller upgrade, corporations might be fast on the uptake of the release."

Longhorn chief Jim Allchin wrote a memo to Microsoft employees defending the Longhorn cuts. Click here to read more.

Meanwhile, a developer who requested anonymity said, "The hype machine finally meets reality," and called the news a mixture of good and bad. "Good: focus on the here and now, security issues, SP2 was more than a wake-up call."

But the developer called the announcement "bad per trust issues—yet another retreat, after promising developer upon developer no retreats. Imagine if this was GM [General Motors]—promise a super-car, deliver a Yugo; why, theyd be bankrupt."

Next Page: How does "Little Steer" reflect on Microsofts OS future?

Microsofts OS Future

Another developer who requested anonymity said: "Longhorn is now officially renamed Little Steer. For those of you without knowledge of animal husbandry, ranching or veterinary medicine, a steer is a bovine that has not reached sexual maturity and is castrated. The emasculation of Microsofts efforts is reason enough to suspect that Windows will never produce a robust line of operating systems. Imagine all those brilliant minds in Redmond and the best they can do is change the labeling on the box for another XP variant."

Ross Chappell, a partner with EPI Internet Direct in Markham, Ontario, said it seems that Microsoft realized it was time to deliver. "I think Microsoft made the right move. Ive been in the computer industry for over 30 years, and if there is one thing I know, its that you have to know is when its time to scale back and start delivering," Chappell said. "Just about every software development project starts with grand expectations, and I dont think theres anything wrong with defining a big, ambitious vision.

"Visions point the way to where we want to be and help us to achieve our dreams. These dreams can become nightmares, though, and its a wise manager who knows when its time to stop dreaming and wake up," he said. "I like the concepts behind WinFS, but its too important a piece to rush or do wrong."

Richard Marshall, a retired developer who says he did software and hardware testing and integration for years at a few major corporations, said, "The reason I feel gutting Longhorn is a major mistake is that if Linux keeps getting better and easier for everyday users to install, configure and use for the desktop, and Apple and OS 10.x stays strong, Microsoft needs a new OS with the original planned features on which to compete.

"A significantly downgraded Longhorn will flop in the marketplace and be a major disaster for Microsoft," Marshall said. "XP can carry the day until Longhorn is ready. Microsoft needs to provide another major upgrade in a year with an all-new Internet Explorer and a few other catchy additions to carry the day until Longhorn is fully baked."

Click here for a review of the latest Longhorn build.

David Wilson, a developer with Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck & Co Inc., said he hopes Microsoft uses the delay to make the infrastructure more secure. "I suspect, and hope, there is more to the change of heart than availability of the modules at the release date. I hope Microsoft is slowing themselves so they can build the secure infrastructure first and then build on top of it the miracle features," Wilson said.

"There is no doubt in my mind the features in Microsoft products are the best design to tame any global infrastructure easily," he said. "If they were designed on a stone secure platform from the start, there would be no controversy as to what OS will link the world together."

Regarding Web services, Ronald Schmelzer, an analyst with ZapThink LLC, based in Waltham, Mass., said, "Actually, this might be good news on the Web services and SOA [service-oriented architecture] front, since much of the intellectual property resides within Indigo for the runtime and Avalon for the presentation layer.

"Not much hinged on the new file system, collaboration features or other aspects that surely pushed the delivery off to 2008," Schmelzer said. "So, with Indigo out in the mainstream a good two years earlier, that should give Microsoft more visibility and credibility in the market."

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