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Microsoft in PR Push For Longhorn

There's no turning back on the road to Longhorn now, not with Microsoft's Windows Hardware and Engineering Conference (WinHEC) opening in Redmond on April 25.

At WinHEC, Microsoft will lay out at least some of the technical considerations its hardware partners need to know in order to build equipment compatible with Longhorn, the next, from-the-ground-up version of Windows. Because Windows is the dominant operating system, OEMs must support Longhorn.

Now, Microsoft must generate enthusiasm as well.

That's not as easy as it was in September 2003, when Microsoft first laid out the grand vision of Longhorn at its Professional Developers Conference.

Following the hyperbole, Microsoft had to take its eye off the Longhorn ball in order to concentrate on shipping the essential security-oriented XP Service Pack 2. Since then, the Longhorn story has been one of scale-downs and cutbacks.

"Microsoft is really not in a very good place right now," said Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff. "Longhorn is a ways out, and it's not well-defined. So, when you can't do anything from the product side, you bring out the public relations."

Microsoft had previously revealed that it would cut the WinFS filing system from Longhorn. WinFS would have married SQL Server's database indexing capabilities with the computer file system to make searching across file types easy.

At WinHEC 2003, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates said WinFS would be a key breakthrough for Longhorn. Instead, a beta of WinFS will be delivered soon after Longhorn.

Redmond may have decided that when it came to Longhorn, no news was good news.

"Microsoft has been very quiet about Longhorn for quite some time," said Directions on Microsoft analyst Michael Cherry. "Initially, we had all manner of people talking about this Longhorn wave that was coming. Then, they had to go off and do their work on XP SP2."

Now, Microsoft is trying to get its groove back by releasing further details about bells and whistles in advance of WinHEC. But the details don't add up to a compelling new picture, according to Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox, who called the latest round of messaging "the Been There, Done That Tour."

"This is all stuff we've heard before," Wilcox said. "Security? How long has Microsoft been talking about security?" (Jupiter Research and internetnews.com are owned by the same corporation.)

Microsoft will need to rally the troops again in advance of the Professional Developers Conference in the fall, Cherry said.

"They're trying to send out a signal that, while they may have been a bit premature the first time with the PDC and other messages, now is really the start of the Longhorn development, where external people need to start paying attention," Cherry said. "Longhorn has now moved to the top of the list."

Microsoft also pushed its previously revealed "in 2006" ship date for the still unnamed Windows version to December 2006. This could be greasing the skids for further delays.

"December of 2006 sounds like a convenient way to not say 2007," Haff said. If Microsoft already is pushing the date to the very end of next year, Haff said, "That says to me 2007 is a lot more realistic."