Longhorn Pitted Against Linux 2.6

The stage is set for a showdown between 'Longhorn' and Linux systems, as Microsoft, Red Hat and SuSE kick off a war of words.

On the same day last week that Microsoft Corp. officially spoke about "Longhorn," the next version of Windows, Linux creator Linus Torvalds moved a step closer to the final version of the 2.6 Linux kernel with the release of the test9 version.

The final version of the 2.6 Linux kernel is expected to be released by years end, though officials for leading Linux distributors Red Hat Inc. and SuSE Linux AG said that kernel is unlikely to be incorporated into their products for at least a year. Microsoft, meanwhile, will say only that Longhorn is at least two years away from shipping.

Despite the long lead times, both vendors moves set up a showdown between platforms that their supporters claim will usher in the next frontier in computing for consumers and enterprises alike. In the meantime, the battle will be one of rhetoric.

"We tell everybody what our vision is. I dont think [Linux kernel developers] tell the community what theirs is," said Craig Mundie, chief technology officer at Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash. "Theres also a difference between a community model thats sort of an evolutionary process and one thats actually designed and managed for effect in some specific way, which is what Microsoft is doing."

Mundie said if the features and technologies that Microsoft will bring to the table in Longhorn are really important, then the developer community will have a choice to make.

"Its going to be fascinating to watch how many developers will decide its more interesting to program to Avalon, Indigo and WinFS starting tomorrow, or whether [developers] will opt to wait for the re-creation of things in a lot of other products," he said.

Microsoft has already snared a number of key enterprise customers to start developing and utilizing solutions on Longhorn, including Adobe Systems Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Merck & Co. Inc., but not all Windows users are buying into what they call the "Longhorn hype."

"Its evident by comments from the Microsoft developers that the user interface will look nothing like what is being displayed now," said Jack Zahran, president of UnifiedAgent Inc., of New York, adding that to him Longhorn appeared to be nothing more than a couple of very early prototypes glued together.

"WinFS is actually NTFS [NT File System] with SQL Server replacing the current indexing method in Windows. XAML [XML Application Markup Language] is nothing more than another monopoly-styled move to pull the carpet from under Mozillas open XUL [XML User Interface Language], which is already partially supported in Safari 1.1 [Panther version]," he said.

Zahran said he is involved in the Windows world because his companys key product is an n-tier, SQL Server-, COM+- and ASP-based application developed mostly using Visual Studio 6. Its service provider model was built on Dell Inc. hardware and Windows 2000, both load balanced servers and Microsoft clustered servers.

But Microsoft has been "notorious for preannouncing products and features in order to create FUD and squash the software industrys ability to adopt innovation outside of Microsoft," Zahran said. "Overpromising without any real way to deliver such functionality in a timely way, their intent is to string along their customers."

Tim Witham, lab director for the Open Source Development Lab, in Beaverton, Ore., also sees things differently from Microsofts Mundie, saying that the new 2.6 Linux kernel will broaden the markets where Linux can replace legacy platforms.

Other improvements in the 2.6 kernel include enhanced scalability, faster threading and a better driver layer. The code has been tested on up to 64-way systems, but it is now ready for production use on 32-way machines, Witham said.

"It has key new features that allow Linux to scale dramatically up to support 32 or more processors and down to run in a wide variety of consumer and industrial devices, including hundreds of new, low-cost, embedded processors," Witham said.

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