Windows: Whats Next?

Microsoft says it's all Longhorn, all the time. But something doesn't add up.

Its been exactly a year since Microsoft launched Windows XP. So, whats the operating system kingpin doing for an encore?

Microsoft says its all Longhorn, all the time. Platforms Group VP Jim Allchin and others on the Windows team say that Microsoft already is well on its way toward developing this next major version of Windows for clients and servers. And the fact that alleged screen shots of an early alpha Longhorn build leaked across the Web this week would seem to indicate that Microsoft is proceeding quite nicely with Longhorn.

But, as both Microsoft watchers and industry analysts have noted, something doesnt add up with Longhorn. Microsofts top brass have taken to referring to Longhorn as a 2005 technology (despite the fact that the leaked screen shots still label the product as "Windows 2004"). But remember: Software Assurance licensees of Microsoft products are expecting some kind of Windows upgrade by 2004, given Microsofts commitment to upgrade its products within a three-year window.

Developers inside Microsoft have told some developers outside the company that an interim upgrade of Windows--at least for client systems--is one option that Redmond is considering, regardless of what the guys at the top are promising.

Microsoft also could opt to separate its client and sever releases, as it did with Windows XP and Windows .Net Server 2003, and push the Longhorn client out of the corral in 2004 and the Longhorn server in 2005.

There are also rumors swirling about that Microsoft could just leapfrog the Longhorn server. In this scenario, Microsoft would bundle up a minor Windows XP upgrade with the latest service pack full of fixes, slap a "Longhorn" label on it and deliver that in 2004. On the server side, Microsoft could jump ahead to its post-Longhorn release, code-named Blackcomb, and roll that out by 2006.

Longhorn, if it adheres to the hefty and ambitious feature list that Microsofts been amassing for the product, is going to be a major, not a cosmetic, Windows release.

Microsoft is journeying all the way down to the file system and application-programming-interface levels and retrofitting Longhorn with the "Yukon" file system and "Avalon" Win32 replacement. The user interface is set to be overhauled to make finding and storing user data a snap. And there are plenty of other self-healing, security, application-installation and error-message features on tap for Longhorn, as well, sources say.

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