XP Dawns; More Windows Ahead

Even as it launches Windows XP at a glitzy affair in New York, Microsoft has development teams hard at work on the two subsequent Windows releases, code-named Longhorn and Blackcomb.

NEW YORK -- For Microsoft Corp., XP isnt enough. The Redmond, Wash., company, which held a glitzy affair here last week to launch its newest operating system, Windows XP, already has development teams working on the two subsequent Windows releases, code-named Longhorn and Blackcomb.

As a result, users will face the prospect of two more upgrades over the next four years, a circumstance for which Microsoft is already facing backlash.

"Overkill is business as usual for Microsoft, but to deny the impact of XP and the operating systems that follow would be foolish," said John Persinger, a network administrator for Source4 Inc., in Roanoke, Va. As long as Windows NT and Windows 2000 continue to meet his companys needs, it has no plans to integrate XP, Persinger said.

And despite a major show of support by OEMs last week, at least some Microsoft partners were more pragmatic about the launch than others. Hewlett-Packard Co. Chairman Carly Fiorina said XP "wont drive the economy to recovery."

And although Microsoft is undaunted, its plans fly in the face of a growing reluctance among corporate users to move to XP or any future operating system and perpetuate the upgrade cycle.

New research from Gartner Dataquest indicates that many corporate users agree with Persinger. Figures released last week show that Windows 2000 will remain the leading operating system for the business market into next year.

"Windows XP Professional will be in just 16 percent of new Windows PCs in 2002, while Windows 2000 will be in 41 percent of new Windows PCs at the end of next year," said analyst Michael Silver, in Stamford, Conn.

Bill Gates, Microsofts chairman and chief software architect, was upbeat at the launch and said enterprises such as Wells Fargo & Co., Citibank Corp. and BMW AG have already deployed some 150,000 copies of XP among them, while Microsoft has a commitment for 1 mil lion more in the enterprise.

Meanwhile, Microsofts group vice president for Windows, Jim Allchin, is committed to continuing to innovate the operating system. The Windows client team is already working on Longhorn.

"We anticipate a beta next year to begin that, with the final product shipping some time in 2003," Allchin said in an interview last week.

Allchin stressed the importance of user feedback and how it will play a role in the features and new technology found in upcoming releases.

"Longhorn will have improvements that weve learned from customers using Windows XP, and much will depend on the feedback received from the upcoming third beta for the Windows .Net server family [due for release next month]," Allchin said.

The Longhorn development team also will learn from the usability of XP and how to take advantage of the class framework from its Visual Studio .Net product work. The goal, Allchin said, is to "try and understand how we can provide more managed interfaces and other things."

Allchin declined to say much about Blackcomb, which is expected to ship in 2005. Earlier this year, Microsoft backed off from its plan to have Blackcomb as the first full-fledged .Net Windows release.

One user, who requested anonymity, said Blackcomb is intended to "be a big deal," a relatively major overhaul of the NT kernel itself.

According to the user, one piece of Blackcomb under development is Storage+, a relational file system that could be based on SQL Server. He added that the feature could be combined with the registry, Exchange and Active Directory.

A Microsoft spokesman declined to comment on Storage+.

In contrast, Longhorn will be a relatively minor upgrade, "similar to a Windows XP Second Edition but borrowing what they learn from Windows XP," the user said.

Gates has previously said Longhorn will be an interim release after XP.

Source4s Persinger said that while it appeared Microsoft is trying to be more "levelheaded and user-friendly" about its plans and goals for Longhorn and Blackcomb, "my concern is that these coming developments may shorten the life of what may have the potential to be shaped into something stable and usable.

"When Win 2000 was released, companies were not given the time or even the information they needed to make a sound decision or to plan a migration," he said.