Microsoft Corp. has once again shifted the schedule for the release of “Longhorn,” the companys next major version of Windows, leaving some users up in the air about an upgrade path.
Microsoft executives from Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates on down have long described Longhorn as the Redmond, Wash., companys most revolutionary operating system to date. The product was originally expected to ship next year. Then in May of this year, officials pushed back the release date to 2005. But now executives are declining to say when they expect the software to ship.
“We do not yet know the time frame for Longhorn, but it will involve a lot of innovative and exciting work,” said Gates at a company financial analyst meeting this summer. Since then, other Microsoft officials have neither retracted nor clarified Gates statement.
They have said that the next step for Longhorn will be at the Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles next month, where Longhorn developer preview CDs will be handed out. That will be followed by a broad first beta next year, said Jim Allchin, group vice president of Microsofts Windows Platform Group, at the same summer event attended by Gates.
Some Microsoft partners and customers said that they would welcome Longhorn delays and that there needs to be more time between major releases to allow Microsoft proper engineering time.
For example, the two newest features due in Longhorn—the Windows File System and the new compositing system—both need a lot of engineering and testing time, observers said.
A partner with a Midwest company who works closely on Windows and who requested anonymity said he wants to see more distributed computing features, which is a logical path for Microsofts .Net initiative to take.
“When Im writing code at home or rendering something, why does it have to happen on my home machine? Why cant it seamlessly run those tasks on the dozen or so machines I have access to that are just sitting there?” he asked.
Next page: Legal reasons behind Longhorn delay?
Legal Reasons for Longhorn
As for the reasons Microsoft is further delaying Longhorn, one theory is that the company could be postponing the release of the next wave of its flagship products until the remedy order issued last year by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to settle the antitrust case against Microsoft expires.
That agreement, valid for five years, forces Microsoft to make available for license the protocols between its client and server environments.
“Once they get beyond the time frame of the remedy, they will be free to change the client and server protocols, which could make it more difficult to emulate a Windows server or client, as was the case prior to the remedy order,” Al Gillen, an analyst with International Data Corp., in Framingham, Mass., told eWEEK.
But Microsoft spokeswoman Erica Beyer said it is “highly unlikely” that Longhorn will be released after the consent decree expires in November 2007, adding that “also, any and all relevant APIs will be disclosed as documented on release of the product.”
But the delays also raise a potential problem for Microsoft. Those customers who subscribe to its Licensing 6 and Software Assurance program expect access to the next upgrade of Microsoft products.
“If you bought Software Assurance this year or last, under a three-year contract, what if the product upgrades dont come out by the time your contract expires and you dont get an upgrade out of the deal?” Gillen asked.
That is one reason Microsoft has been evolving Software Assurance into more than a simple maintenance program. The company is now offering training, technical support and other components to make it a compelling offering beyond just a product upgrade, Gillen said.
Microsofts Breyer also made clear that the company does not guarantee any upgrades during the term of customers contracts. “This is an important consideration that Microsofts customers take into account when purchasing Software Assurance, which is a long-term, ongoing relationship between Microsoft and its customers, and a great deal of value comes from staying on SA long-term,” she said.
An enterprise customer in the national security industry, who requested anonymity, said that he intends to hold Microsoft to its promise of greater interoperability and that he will not sit back and allow the company to reverse the gains made to date on this front.
“We will exert enormous pressure on Microsoft to make sure it lives up to its Licensing 6 and Software Assurance promises,” he said.
But according to IDCs Gillen, there are other possible reasons for the delay, including the fact that Microsofts ability to rapidly introduce change into its products is becoming increasingly difficult. Every time Microsoft makes a change, it must be supported in all the companys earlier products, he said.
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