Microsoft reins in Longhorn ambitions

Microsoft is sacrificing some features it planned for Longhorn as it works to deliver its first beta of the next Windows client...

Microsoft is sacrificing some features it planned for Longhorn as it works to deliver its first beta of the next Windows client next year.

Last year, Microsoft set out an ambitious vision for Longhorn at the Professional Developers Conference (PDC). The operating system, expected in 2006, promises major improvements over Windows XP in the way it handles graphics, files and communications.

"What we told developers at PDC is the essence of Longhorn," said Greg Sullivan, lead product manager for Windows at Microsoft. "We are now determining the core work that we absolutely need to do and what the areas are where we can do some shaping around the edges so we do get the product in the hands of customers."

Sullivan insisted that Microsoft is not cutting back on its vision, features and functionality will be clipped, without taking away the core of the improvements it promised, so it can deliver the product in reasonable time.

"We're determining the work that will enable us to deliver that vision and figuring out what is not core," he said.

"We don't have any specific details to share about the current plan or which features are in or out," he added. More details will be available before the release of the first Longhorn beta, which is planned for early 2005.

Microsoft has to trim the Longhorn feature set to be able to deliver the product, said Michael Cherry, a lead analyst at Directions on Microsoft.

"Microsoft has talked about a lot of features and functionality for Longhorn, and as it starts to talk about shipping the product it is quite natural that some features get postponed or cut," Cherry said. "In fact, it is almost a good sign that they are starting to be realistic about the amount of work they can get done in a defined period of time."

One part of Longhorn where Microsoft might cut back its ambitions is WinFS, the new unified storage system, which chairman and chief software architest Bill Gates referred to at PDC as a "Holy Grail".

WinFS promises to make it easier for users to find data such as documents and e-mail messages.

Microsoft may decide to limit the functionality of WinFS to users' computers and not extend it to file-sharing servers in a corporate network, sources said. 

WinFS is one of three core components of Longhorn. The other two are Avalon and Indigo, codenames for a presentation subsystem and communication technologies respectively. The components sit on top of a layer of "fundamentals" that includes security and technology to make sure applications and drivers don't conflict.

All those components and the fundamentals will be in Longhorn when it ships, Sullivan said. However, he admitted that the operating system may not support as broad a range of scenarios as Microsoft once envisioned.

Last month Microsoft delayed the release of SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005, major upgrades to its database and developer tools respectively, to the first half of 2005. Both had been due in the second half of 2004. Both products are tied to the new technologies coming in Longhorn.

Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service

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