Gates enigmatic about Longhorn launch

Longhorn, the next version of Microsoft Windows desktop operating system, will be so different that users may not like it right...

Longhorn, the next version of Microsoft Windows desktop operating system, will be so different that users may not like it right away, Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates said yesterday.

"Longhorn is a bit scary. ... We have been willing to change things," he added. "It should drive a whole range of upgrades, but that could be sort of delayed."

He admitted that because of differences with the previous versions of Windows, it could be a year or two after its release before computer users really pick up Longhorn.

Gates appeared to distance himself from a commitment the company made at its Windows Engineering Hardware Conference (WinHEC) in May to deliver Longhorn in 2005. Yesterday he would not comment on the release date.

"Longhorn is innovative ... there is a lot of work to be done in terms of what has to go in and what has not," Gates said.

Asked if Microsoft would consider dropping some of the innovations it has planned so the product can come out sooner, Gates said no. "If you split it up, then you delay one of the really great pieces."

Early versions of the product have leaked to the internet. Major changes in Longhorn are expected to include the graphical user interface and either a new file system or a technology update to the existing file system.

Meanwhile Microsoft is preparing Office and server products to accompany Longhorn's launch, reigniting speculation about a server version.

"We have not set a rate on a next server release, but we hit about every three years. Longhorn is in the same zone as the three years," said Bob O’Brien, group product manager in Microsoft's Windows Server division.

"I think Microsoft will have to at least refresh Windows Server 2003 when it releases Longhorn," said Rob Helm, research director at Directions on Microsoft, an independent research firm.

Jupiter Research senior analyst Joe Wilcox said a server release of Longhorn is a possibility. "I wouldn't place any bets yet. Microsoft is still early in its Longhorn plans, and roadmaps are by no means final," he added.

Not only do the roadmaps not appear final, questions remain about the technology underlying Longhorn. "We're doing a new file system which is called next-generation Windows, or WinFS," Gates said about Longhorn.

At WinHEC, however, Microsoft officials said WinFS is not a new file system, but a storage technology built on the existing NTFS file system.

 A beta of Longhorn is planned for next year.

Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service

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