Pushing Forward

Despite injunction threat, Microsoft plots XP upgrade

Microsoft Corp. appears undaunted by the growing legal challenges to its Windows XP operating system and has already assembled a team to work on the next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn.

Jim Allchin, vice president of Microsofts platform group, said planning for the next version of the operating system started in May. The Redmond, Wash., company is preparing for the completion and launch of Windows XP Oct. 25.

"We havent settled on anything yet," Allchin wrote in an e-mail.

But many of Microsofts partners, testers and developers were taken aback by the fact that the company has deviated from its initial plans to have the next release be Blackcomb, the code name for the operating system Microsoft executives have been publicly touting to follow Windows XP.

Blackcomb was to have been the first version of Windows fully enabled for Microsofts ongoing .Net Web services initiative. Bill Gates, Microsofts chairman and chief software architect, told eWeek he always meant to have an interim release between the Windows XP and Blackcomb releases. Gates confirmed that, apart from the new user interface and unified storage that would be found in Blackcomb, Longhorn would contain all the key .Net components.

A Microsoft partner in the Midwest, who requested anonymity, said he was surprised by the news that Blackcomb had been pushed back, suggesting that Microsoft is "simply just not yet ready to deliver a true .Net version of the operating system." Another reason suggested for the delay is that Microsoft is working on a "scaled-down version" of Windows XP that will have fewer things bundled, the partner said. But Microsofts Allchin denied this, saying, "The plans have nothing to do with some scaled-down version of XP concerning anything to do with settlement or antitrust issues."

The shift in Microsofts planned release strategy comes as XP faces continued legal challenges. Not only are federal and state attorneys general pursuing their legal options, but legislators such as Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, are jumping into the fray. Schumer has asked federal and state trustbusters to consider taking action that will delay XPs release, calling on Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to hold hearings on the matter. Those hearing are expected in September.

Schumer has called on New York State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer and the other state attorneys general to bring suit enjoining the release of XP unless Microsoft agrees to make significant changes to XP.

Microsoft is facing legal action from a range of other parties, including InterTrust Technologies Corp., based in Santa Clara, Calif., which is asking for an injunction against XP, claiming that its product-activation technology violates InterTrust patents.

The Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, privacy group Junkbusters Corp. and a number of other groups have asked the Federal Trade Commission to delay the release of XP and investigate Microsofts data collection practices around Passport and XP, which they see as unfair and deceptive.

Steve Ballmer, Microsofts CEO, said last week he was "shocked and dismayed" by the criticisms of XP and the way competitors had attacked it. "This is a product that is good for consumers, good for our partners and associates, and good for the industry," Ballmer said. On whether he was worried that the legal challenges could delay the launch of Windows XP, he sidestepped the issue. "Microsoft is doing its job. We are building the product, preparing for shipment—there is nothing else to do but that," he said.

Some legal experts said they feel there is little chance that the government or legislators will succeed in delaying the XP launch. "Proving that the launch would cause irreparable harm to its competitors or the public would be exceedingly difficult to do," said John Soma, who was part of the Justice Departments legal team on the IBM antitrust case and is now a University of Denver law professor. "But this does increase the pressure on them to appear willing to give a lot of ground in settlement talks."