Despite recent claims to the contrary, there may be a Windows server operating system code-named Longhorn after all, a Microsoft executive said.
Just last November, Microsoft officials said that the next major Windows operating system, code-named Longhorn, would be a client-only release. But Brian Valentine, senior vice president of Microsoft's Windows division, said that that announcement was "a bit premature" based on engineering planning.
Valentine said that some of the new client capabilities being enabled in Longhorn, such as richer collaboration and integrated storage, will require infrastructure services on top of the server operating system. How those server operating system additions will be packaged and delivered has yet to be decided, he said.
The Longhorn client operating system is due sometime in 2005, according to Valentine. But it's too early to tell if there will be a Windows Server 2005 release, he added. "We'll do whatever makes the most sense and is easiest on our customers," Valentine said.
With Longhorn targeted for 2005, the successor to Longhorn, code-named Blackcomb, is now loosely pegged for 2007 or 2008, said Valentine. "We think that these waves can't be consumed any faster than two- to three-year cycles in the enterprise," he said.
Until this week, Microsoft officials had said that Longhorn wouldn't ship before mid-2004 and that Blackcomb wouldn't ship before late 2005 or early 2006. The dates that Valentine supplied yesterday clearly extend those predicted time frames.
Valentine said a new server kernel will probably be required for the Blackcomb release, so he expects there will be both client and server operating releases. But he was quick to add that no commitments have been made yet. "Just as the Longhorn stuff is still fluid, the further out you look, it even gets more fluid," he said.
With regard to the server operating system updates needed in the Longhorn time frame, Valentine said minor or simple services could be delivered as part of an optional installation of a service pack CD. But, he said, the Windows team wants to keep service packs primarily targeted at bug fixes.
Valentine said more extensive changes will likely be delivered separately. Citing one example, he pointed to the real-time communications capabilities being enabled in the next version of Office, something likely to spur the need for a real-time communications infrastructure involving the server operating system.
Any additions or changes made to the Windows server operating system in the Longhorn time frame will be done on top of the kernel for Windows Server 2003, which is due to ship next month, said Valentine. He said he views the server kernel as more than a memory manager and I/O subsystem. To him, the kernel also encompasses core services such as Active Directory and public-key infrastructure technology.
"Those things aren't going to dramatically change for the Longhorn wave," he said. "There will be some new management infrastructure that comes out in there, but that'll be overlaid on top of the server kernel."
Because the kernel won't change, customers who choose to migrate to Windows Server 2003 won't lose their investment in the event that Microsoft does decide to release a Longhorn server operating system, Valentine said.
In November, when Microsoft announced that Longhorn would be a client-only release, a Microsoft official cited the delayed shipping date for Windows .Net Server 2003 as the impetus for the change in plans. Bob O'Brien, a group product manager in Microsoft's Windows server division, called it a "common-sense decision" to scratch the server version, based on customer feedback that Longhorn would emerge too soon after Windows .Net Server 2003.
"Servers are certainly a bit of an expensive implementation for our customers, and giving them server releases that are too close together makes it difficult for them to deploy them," O'Brien said at the time. "We always have to balance our schedules against what the customers feel is the right schedule for them."