When Microsoft Corp. announced last week it was scaling back the feature set for the next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn, it may have inadvertently given competitors the opening theyd been looking for.
Enterprises frustrated by Microsofts plan to delay key features of the Windows upgrade to meet a rollout schedule of 2006 for the desktop and 2007 for the server say they may now put open-source systems on the table. Developers including Novell Inc., Red Hat Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc. are all too eager to help them along.
“I have heard more questions about Linux coming from customers now than in the previous two years combined,” said John Kretz, president of Enlightened Point Consulting Group LLC, in Phoenix, last week. “If Microsoft fails to learn from this, they will be challenged in the next product cycle by Linux. I predict Linux will make inroads between now and 2006 and 2007.”
The biggest enhancement to Longhorn that is being pulled from the 2006 release is WinFS (Windows File System), said company officials in Redmond, Wash. WinFS is a next-generation storage subsystem that allows advanced data organization and management and improves the storage and retrieval of files. WinFS will be in beta testing when the Longhorn client ships and will be released sometime after that, officials said.
That innovation is just one of those announced by Microsoft—which had forced Apple Computer Inc. and the Linux community at large to develop competitive strategies—that wont be ready as promised, said Timothy Happychuk, IT director for Quebecor Inc.s Sun Media Group Central Division, in Montreal.
“The ability to provide more core features and advanced technologies than Microsoft in a more secure, elegant and/or cost-effective package may be enough to push those on the fence over to the other side,” Happychuk said. “In other words, the emerging climate may be the first where disappointed Microsoft users may actually turn into disenfranchised ones.”
Jim Allchin, group vice president of Microsofts Platforms Group, countered last week that Microsoft is responding to customers. “They want improved productivity, easier deployment, increased reliability and enhanced security, as well as the many innovations weve been working on,” Allchin said. “Weve had to make some trade-offs to deliver the features corporate customers, consumers and OEMs are asking for in a reasonable time frame. Our long-term vision for the Windows platform remains the same.”
But not everyone agrees. EPCGs Kretz said Microsoft needed WinFS to justify the cost of a Longhorn upgrade. With it now removed, Longhorn will be nothing more than “a bloated service pack,” he said. “By stripping out functionality, Microsoft is making Longhorn into Windows XP Millennium Edition.”
A CIO for a U.S. government agency in Washington who requested anonymity said he agreed that removing WinFS leaves little in Longhorn to justify an upgrade. “How many people havent upgraded from Windows 2000 to Windows XP because theres not enough bang for the buck? Longhorn looks like more of the same,” he said.
Nat Friedman, vice president of desktops at Novells Framingham, Mass., offices, said Microsofts “monolithic development methodology means that each new version of Windows is akin to giving birth to a full-grown adult. Its time-consuming, costly and nonmodular. By contrast, open-source vendors work off a modular, flexible development model. In the long view, Microsofts all-at-once operating system development strategy wont be able to compete with this approach,” he said.
Red Hat officials said the open-source model drives technologies to maturation more rapidly than a proprietary model. “Since we have a subscription model, customers do not have to wait for new releases to have access to needed technologies. [This] week, we will issue a quarterly update that makes security features such as exec-shield and position-independent executables available ahead of schedule,” said Red Hat spokesperson Leigh Day in Raleigh, N.C.
For its part, Sun, of Santa Clara, Calif., also questioned Microsoft and its Longhorn strategy. “We knew all along that Longhorn was a long-vision approach, and, as we all know, when you are trying to stuff everything into a product, that usually means the product ends up really, really bad or it gets delayed a lot—or maybe both,” said John Loiacono, Suns executive vice president for software, in an interview with eWEEK.
Sun is shipping Java Desktop System and Java Enterprise System, both powered by Linux, and will ship a production version of Solaris 10 in December, Loiacono said. Sun also is in the process of opening the source code for Solaris, which Loiacono said will significantly increase its appeal and market share.
“From an operating perspective, it seems that Microsoft is trying to take on Apple from the user interface and three-dimensional aspect, Linux from a cost perspective, and Solaris from an enterprise feature perspective. That is very challenging to do,” Loiacono said.