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Longhorn Comes Up Short

By Cynthia L. Webb
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Monday, August 30, 2004; 9:50 AM

At long last, Microsoft has put a date on when it will release the next generation of its Windows operating system. But the 2006 delivery of "Longhorn" will ship without the highly touted Windows File System feature, raising all sorts of questions about the future of the world's biggest software company.

It's worth asking: Why didn't Microsoft invest some of the billions it's keeping in the bank in more software developers? Seems like a few billion spent on staff (in Redmond or Bangalore) could have paid off with a complete version of Longhorn. And is it wise to disburse some of its cash stockpile later this year in a big dividend to investors at the same time the company is failing to deliver on its next major software release? Let me know if you think these are fair questions.

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So what's the big deal about Longhorn in the first place? The Seattle Times offered this context: "Longhorn is more than a new piece of software. As a foundation for tomorrow's PCs, Longhorn is expected to help determine whether the machines gain or lose importance in the next chapter of computing and Internet. Longhorn is also important to Microsoft investors. Analysts expect the company's stock to idle along in its current trading range until the 'Longhorn wave' of product releases begins."
The Seattle Times: Microsoft Sets 2006 Timetable For Next Version of Windows

The Wall Street Journal said the "Microsoft's delay underscores the challenges the company faces in maintaining its traditional formula for growth. Through the 1990s, the company rapidly expanded by adding features to its software that enticed computer users to buy new versions of Windows or new PCs. But finding a formula to excite PC buyers has become more difficult, as has keeping increasingly complex development projects on a tight deadline. Removing WinFS -- one of three major new features expected to be included in Longhorn -- won't make the launch of the new operating system any easier."
The Wall Street Journal: Microsoft Is Set Back On New Windows (Subscription required)

And the failure to release Windows File System, referred to in shorthand as "WinFS," is a major deal, according to numerous analysts quoted by media organizations. IDC analyst Roger Kay told The Washington Post: "This amounts to a delay [in releasing Longhorn], because if they deliver it without the file system that was part of the original [specification], then they're only able to meet their deadline by de-featuring the product."
The Washington Post: New Windows Planned For 2006 (Registration required)

Reuters explains more on why the company decided to release Longhorn without all of its pieces: "Delivering the next version of Windows on time has become more of a critical goal for Microsoft after it encouraged large corporate customers two years ago to sign long-term contracts that would give them the right to upgrade to the latest versions of the company's software, rather than pay for each available upgrade."
Reuters: Microsoft Sets 2006 Target For Next Windows Version

The Journal offered up a good description of what WinFS is supposed to do: "WinFS should enable PC users to retrieve items -- including e-mails, documents, music or images -- with a single search. Today's computer users have to troll through individual applications such as Word or Excel for specific files and documents. With WinFS, files could be found based on properties such as date, title, author or contents without concern for what software application, such as Microsoft Word or Excel, they are associated with."

The Glass Is Half FULL!

Microsoft, in an announcement issued Friday, put its own spin of the development. According to The New York Times, "Microsoft executives insisted [that the removal of WinFS from Longhorn] did not point to a setback in software development, but showed that the company had a surplus of innovation -- and not all of it could make it into Windows for 2006." "We're going to make it available as soon as we can, but that component is going to take a little more time to get the quality that's required," Will Poole, a Microsoft senior vice president, told The Wall Street Journal. Poole told the Journal that Longhorn programmers had to shift their work to help with the company's security upgrade to Windows XP and are now back on Longhorn duty.
The New York Times: Next Version of Windows For PC's To Ship in 2006 (Registration required)

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates spoke to CNET about the news on Friday. Gates: "This is the first time we've actually given a date for when we'll ship the Longhorn operating system. It's always risky in a software project, especially one where the compatibility requirements and the scope of the features of what we deliver in versions of Windows are incredibly broad, but we've made enough progress. We've got enough methodology in place that we decided that was the right thing to do." As for WinFS, Gates said: "WinFS is where we made the biggest change. We realized that we could do a lot of rich search capabilities in the OS without the full database, taking some of our text technology that's been used by Office, and actually, MSN is doing some nearer-term local-search things, building on that same technology."

Gates, demonstrating his spin skills, added: "What was the right thing? Was it to take Longhorn as a whole and get these super-cool additional WinFS features in, knowing that that would push the release out into '07, or was it to come up with a plan that was a bit more clever and really not give up much? The plan we have does give up WinFS shipping with Longhorn. And so if you want my basic assessment here, the glass is three-quarters full."
CNET's News.com: Gates: Longhorn Changed To Make Deadlines

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