Large enterprises and Microsoft beta testers can look forward to getting earlier and more frequent access to software under development.
Executives for the Redmond, Wash., company, such as Eric Rudder, senior vice president of servers and tools, are pushing for a new policy in which software under development is made available early and often, much the way the first bits of “Longhorn,” the next Windows release, were handed out at Microsofts Professional Developers Conference in October.
This desire is motivated by the delays of products such as Longhorn and “Yukon,” the next version of SQL Server, and to help developers plan for and work on new projects.
Some Microsoft users said they would welcome such a move. “Having an earlier view of what is changing gives you time to think of the implications and opportunities of the changes as well as of the dangers or pitfalls, if there are any,” said Brian Riley, senior programmer and analyst at a large U.S. health care services company.
In a recent interview with eWEEK, Rudder said that customers really want Microsoft to take the time to make sure products go through the necessary security reviews; threat assessment analysis; and testing for usability, supportability and traceability before shipping. “Now, with that said, [for] those developers and IT pros on a tough schedule looking to make progress on projects, the way to accommodate that is to give them betas and release candidates that are stable and where the interfaces are not going to change so they can start planning and start production,” he said.
“As Microsofts products find their way into every segment of our networks, the more carefully they build them, the better,” said John Persinger, internal network administrator for Source4 Inc., in Roanoke, Va.
Rudder said Microsoft will “make good use of the time, and youll see SQL ship with better application support out of the gate. Were now in much better lock step with partners like PeopleSoft [Inc.].”
Rudder declined to say if the policy would be extended to products such as Microsoft Office but did say that “in general, Id like to be more open with our road maps and be more open with sharing our technology earlier.”
Microsoft is still in the Windows Server 2003 wave of product releases. The next wave of products will be around “Whidbey,” the update to Visual Studio, and Yukon, followed by the Longhorn wave of products.
“My attention is balanced between making sure customers succeed on Windows 2003, that we build great products and that we build killer functionality into Longhorn,” Rudder said.
Concurrent Longhorn development
Officials said Microsoft is developing the Longhorn client and server releases concurrently, as it did in the early phases of Windows XP. “You shouldnt think of them as being exactly concurrent, but you should think of them as being very consistent,” said Bob Muglia, senior vice president of Microsofts Windows server division, in an interview.
Microsoft has been developing Longhorn along a single tree, with Longhorn client and server builds done in parallel and with betas to be released on the same day for both. “But as we approach the release date for the client, the server will still be at an earlier form of release candidate,” Muglia said. “The server requires more bake time than the client. … The server will ship in the order of three to six months after the client.”
Subsequently, Microsoft officials said that the client will ship in the first half of 2006 and that they are ready to cut some “minor” Longhorn features to meet that deadline.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in a recent interview that the company has “taken a hit on Longhorn—a hit in features more than a hit in schedule. We continue to drive Longhorn forward, but theres no doubt that well take something of a hit in order to make sure we can get the right work done on Windows XP [Service Pack] 2 and the server.” Ballmer declined to say what features might be cut.
Sources close to the Windows team said that none of the major new features demonstrated at the PDC—the “Avalon” presentation layer, the “WinFS” storage engine and the “Indigo” collaboration components—will be cut.
That suits users such as Riley, who said he does not want Microsoft to ship any product that has problems with application support and security.
“We are a business,” Riley said. “What we have now works. Dont have us replace it with something that does not, then have me going through a fire drill to get things working again. Delays usually hurt Microsofts cash flow more than its customers. Nothing should be shipped until it is 100 percent ready to be used.”