An Interim XP For a Delayed Longhorn?

Microsoft is mulling changing its operating system product roadmap and delivering enhancements to its Windows XP operating system, according to a company official, which could come after its long-awaited XP Service Pack 2 ships this year.

Such a move would signal that the software giant is adding in XP improvements after the SP2 release in order to compensate for another delayed development schedule for Longhorn, its next-generation version of Windows. That Microsoft is considering any kind of Reloaded project for XP may be an internal acknowledgement that Longhorn has slipped, said Gartner analyst Mike Silver.

“The more stuff they need to do in the interim has the potential to slow down Longhorn,” he said. Gartner doesn’t expect the new operating system to ship before 2007 (beyond the widely expected 2006 time frame), which would mark six years between full operating system releases. “Would it be better to wait for Longhorn or put out some interim features to stem the tide?” Silver said. “Even if Longhorn did get pushed out more, at least they have something to fill the gap.”

Microsoft refused to elaborate to about details in XP Reloaded, as company officials have dubbed it. Analysts said the software vendor will have to wait until after it ships XP Service Pack 2 in order to provide more details on exactly what the product enhancements would be.

“Microsoft is always developing improvements and add-ons,” said IDC analyst Al Gillen. “My understanding is that this is not necessarily a product roadmap as much as a statement that they have a development effort underway that has a code name associated with it.” Gillen pointed out that every code-named project doesn’t always result in a product.

Joe Wilcox, an analyst with Jupiter Research (which shares a parent company with, said the code name refers more to a business goal than a product. “They want to have some kind of ‘value-added campaign,'” he said. “That’s a Microsoft term for, ‘We’re going to do something, but we don’t know what it is yet.'” He said even the project’s goals are not clear.

But the XP Reloaded plan at least recognizes that the latest operating system product could use a recharge. The company acknowledged in its latest earnings statement that uptake of XP hasn’t been as strong as it hoped. Meanwhile, Wilcox said, XP users aren’t taking advantage of existing features.

Wilcox said XP Reloaded most likely will be a combination of new marketing efforts and some product additions. For example, he observed, the company might produce add-on packs similar to its Plus! digital media pack, or it could produce something like its Winter Fun packs, which showcase buried features and encourage users to try them.

The lack of awareness of XP’s features is a function of Microsoft’s approach to building operating systems by integrating all the features. “In doing that,” Wilcox added, “you make the programs a little harder to uncover — and in some cases nearly impossible to market.”

He compared that approach to Apple Computer’s . While both ship digital media applications with their operating systems, Apple delivers them in a branded bundle, called iLife, then promotes them in a user-friendly, benefits-oriented way. On the other hand, he said, Microsoft makes these functions part of the OS, where they can get lost.

“The problem Microsoft faces, even with its huge market share, is that it’s no longer just the ad agencies or creative types that want these features. It’s the regular person at home. This is where Apple’s messaging is beginning to hit the mark. Despite its puny market share, Apple’s mindshare success with 0S 10 is at least indirectly responsible for Microsoft’s Windows XP Reloaded program.”

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