The rollout of Microsoft Corp.s next major version of Windows has been pushed back to late 2006 in large part by a two-punch combination of newly found security vulnerabilities and the impending disposition of sanctions expected from the European Union.
As a result, concern is growing among Microsoft customers, especially those that have signed Software Assurance volume license agreements with the Redmond, Wash., software developer—contracts that may expire before the new version of Windows, called “Longhorn,” ships.
“Microsoft went to a lot of effort to convince us to move from the one-time software purchase upgrade model to Software Assurance,” said an administrator for a volume licensee who requested anonymity. “We expected at least one client upgrade during this time. Now, it appears our agreement may expire before Longhorn even ships, and no interim release will make up for that. I want to get what I paid for; otherwise, this will have turned out to be an expensive move with little benefit.”
To address those concerns, Microsoft is working on an interim Windows client release, known as “XP Reloaded,” which is expected to ship next year, according to company officials. Microsoft is also considering an interim Windows Server release next year, the officials said.
While declining to comment on unannounced products, Bob Muglia, senior vice president of Microsofts Windows Server division, told eWEEK last week that the company is considering interim upgrades for Windows. “One of the reasons why we are looking at how we can get technology to market is to try and provide value to our Software Assurance customers—no question,” Muglia said.
But while the company is crafting an interim plan for customers, the future of its product packaging is less certain, as legal battles overseas continue. Last week, EU antitrust regulators backed a draft resolution that found Microsoft had abused its Windows monopoly. The EU wants Microsoft to offer computer makers a version of Windows without the companys Media Player to give rivals such as RealNetworks Inc. a shot at getting onto consumer desktops. The EU is also expected to demand that Microsoft release more basic code for Windows to improve interoperability with competing networking software.
The pressures are putting a squeeze on Microsoft resources, partners said.
John Parkinson, chief technologist for the Americas at Cap Gemini Ernst and Young U.S. LLC, in Chicago, said Microsoft has moved a third of its Longhorn staff over to address a redesign of Windows XP, partly to address security vulnerabilities that have shown up and partly because Microsoft had concluded the EU was likely to make the company unbundle the platform in some way.
But to do so, Microsoft would have to redesign so much that the resource commitment would delay Longhorn, Parkinson said.
Muglia, however, denied that Longhorns shipping date had been affected by the EUs antitrust case.
“Honestly, our focus on Longhorn and the amount of resources devoted to that team have not been hugely impacted by the negotiations around the EU,” Muglia said at Microsofts Management Summit here last week. “Security has impacted us; theres no question of that. And frankly, Longhorn is a very ambitious release; there are major changes coming, and we need to get it right. Well do the right thing by the EU, but that hasnt impacted Longhorn.”
Still, other partners disagreed. One source who is close to Microsoft and familiar with its plans and who asked not to be identified said another motivating factor for XP Reloaded is the belief at Microsoft and among many of its partners that the company would have to offer an unbundling capability to meet the EUs antitrust requirements.
“If you are going to do that, you might as well practice that on the existing code base and work out the bugs, see how that is really going to work,” the source said. “And then spend a year seeing what people really do unbundled, and what theyre really willing to pay for as a feature, before making a final decision on the pricing of the feature set for Longhorn.”
According to the source, Microsoft would have to do some stability engineering and, by tying together all the components of Windows as tightly as they are today, would incur some regression testing costs. “But there is a solution to that, so the manifest-based deployment stuff in Longhorn will now come out earlier,” the source said.
“It will be possible to buy a product where you can specify, fairly granularly, what feature set gets installed,” the source said. “This will be due to the EU antitrust and not because of consumer demand because end users frankly dont care. Ironically, this will make Windows look a lot more like Linux.”
Some IT professionals welcome the EUs antitrust stance. “Microsoft is a monopoly,” said Brian Riley, senior programmer and analyst at a U.S. health care services company. “They were ruled a monopoly by the U.S. legal system. They are trying to extend that monopoly to digital media. I am cheering the EU decision, and I would like Microsoft to back off on this one.”
Microsoft officials have long declined to give a definitive date for Longhorns release, but some experts said it is unlikely to happen before the second half of 2006. However, they say Microsoft will want to ship a new build of the platform before then. The company had originally planned to ship the product by the end of this year.
Thats where XP Reloaded comes in. The release will allow Microsoft to get some Longhorn features out to market early and shorten the step to Longhorn, especially if the company is able to release some manageability features early. “Its my understanding that they wont do anything radical with the user interface in the XP Reloaded release, but they will be able to synchronize the protocol stack on the client and the server,” Cap Geminis Parkinson said.
Nonetheless, Microsofts Muglia said no final decision has been made on how to deliver an interim server software plan. “There will be software made available on an interim basis, whether its packaged as a single release or not,” Muglia said. “Were still trying to figure that out.”
Some enterprise executives believe the Longhorn delay is necessary and said theyre in no rush to buy an interim upgrade.
“It is much better for the corporate world for Microsoft to get it right the first time than to have all kinds of problems with Longhorn that affect corporate productivity,” said Charles Reid, who is project manager for iNet-Consulting.com Inc., in Los Angeles. “None of our corporate clients are eager to deploy another version of either the desktop or the server any time soon. They have spent or are spending millions getting XP deployed and stabilized. And deploying Longhorn either in 2006 or 2007 is not high on their priority list.”