A Windows Release by Any Other Name

Redmond says no new Windows releases are slated before Longhorn. In truth, there are a half-dozen-or maybe more.

Is Microsoft poised to deliver a new version of Windows client before Longhorn? Or isnt it?

It all depends how you define the word "release." And Microsoft, for its part, seems to be consistently and consciously maintaining a shroud of vagueness around the term.

According to a recent BusinessWeek story based on an alleged internal Microsoft memo, Microsoft last month officially killed a long-rumored interim Windows release code-named "Oasis" (which we and others called "Shorthorn.") This interim release was set to be a stopgap between XP, released in 2001, and Longhorn, due out in 2006 or later.

Greg Sullivan, a lead product manager with Windows client, finally acknowledged this week that a full-fledged interim Windows release had been under consideration. (Getting anyone on the client team to say that much was like pulling teeth.) But such a release is definitely off the table. "It was a contingency plan. We were evaluating it," Sullivan conceded.

On the heels of word of Oasis demise, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told eWEEK in a recent interview point-blank: "Theres no plan to have an interim version other than the ones you know about: XP SP2, which is very important. It may not have the sexiest name in the world, but that is a tremendously important release."

But does that mean there will be no Windows releases between now and then? Hardly.

As Ballmer noted, first well have XP Service Pack 2. Sometimes the Microsoft brass refer to this as a "release," and sometimes as a "mere" update. But SP2 meets a lot of the criteria that typically define an operating-system release. It includes a raft of brand-new features. Microsoft has warned that it will likely break some existing applications and thus requires some substantial testing. And its going to be preloaded on new PCs.

There also are several other XP variants in the wings that Microsoft has acknowledged publicly. The next version of the Windows XP Tablet PC operating system, code-named "Lonestar," is due to ship in June, right alongside Windows XP SP2. And Microsoft is set to release Windows XP 64-bit Extended Edition in the latter half of this year, simultaneous with the delivery of Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1.

Another new Windows release—the Windows XP Media Center PC update, code-named "Symphony"—also is under development. Due to debut this fall, Symphony is now in beta test. It is the operating-system release that will be required by the Windows Media Extenders that Microsoft is readying for a holiday 2004 launch. There will be media extenders for set-top boxes, TVs and Xboxes. These units will allow customers to run Media Center content on a variety of home-entertainment devices—not just on Media Center PCs.

On top of all this, theres a still publicly unacknowledged version of Windows XP that could debut this year, as well. BusinessWeek identified this bundle of Windows XP and Windows Media Player 10 as "Windows XP Premium." Our sources say some kind of a bundle like this is definitely in the works, as PC makers want and need a refreshed platform to better compete with Apples iTunes.

Ive said it before and Ill say it again: The Windows client team needs to stop the waffling and the doublespeak. Its just not true that there are no Windows releases between now and Longhorn. In fact, there are at least five or six new versions on tap.


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