It’s Official: Longhorn 2006

UPDATED: Microsoft ended a couple years of speculation about the
roadmap for the Longhorn desktop OS with an announcement today that it is
targeting 2006 for release of the client.

That’s a big target. To hit it, Redmond has severed key features from the
next-generation client operating system, planning to deliver them separately
and later. For the Windows “Longhorn” Server operating system, Microsoft is
shooting for 2007.

“When we finished XP Service Pack 2, the team poked their head up and
said, ‘What do we need to do to ship Longhorn?'” said John Montgomery,
Microsoft’s director of the .Net development platform. “We took a look at
customer feedback and decided that we needed to get the Longhorn release in
the hands of customers sooner rather than later.”

Longhorn development fell behind after Microsoft was forced to pull
developers off the project to assist with getting Windows XP Service Pack 2
out the door.

Longhorn has three major components: Win FS, a file storage subsystem;
Indigo, a messaging infrastructure based on a Web services-oriented
architecture; and Avalon, the graphics presentation subsystem.

WinFS supposedly will marry SQLServer’s database indexing capabilities
with the computer file system so that users can easily save and search for a
variety of file types, from photos to e-mail to documents and media. At the
Windows Hardware Engineering Conference in February, Microsoft said WinFS
would be a key breakthrough in Longhorn, while Chairman and Chief Software
Architect Bill Gates promised a fairly capable build of WinFS for developers
in 2004.

Instead, Microsoft said it would deliver WinFS after the Longhorn release, but that it should have a beta version ready when the Longhorn client is available.

Microsoft is tying Longhorn to 64-bit computing, which Microsoft believes
will be ubiquitous by 2006.

In a meeting with Microsoft evangelists, company brass promised that
Windows WinFX developer technologies for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003,
including Avalon and Indigo, will ship in 2006. The tools will let
developers write software that works on XP and Windows 2003, as well as
Longhorn systems.

While Microsoft will separate
development of the WinFS file subsystem, delivering it later, the engineers
also made an addition: They’ll make parts of the WinFX development tools for
Avalon available to run on Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.

“ISVs found the WinFX programming module very compelling,” Montgomery
said. “At the same time, they wanted to see the reach broadened, so they
could touch more systems with it.”

The task is not trivial, and Microsoft will have to make some engineering
trade-offs. For example, the user experience of graphics created with
Avalon/WinFX won’t be as snappy under XP.

“When I was briefing customers, ISVs were extremely excited,” Montgomery
said. “They felt it would approve adoption. Customers don’t have to install
a whole new operating system in order to get some of the benefits of
Longhorn.”

This componentization is not necessarily a bad thing, according to James
Governor, an analyst with Redmonk. “I believe the majority customers will be
pleased to see that Indigo and Avalon are going to be available for their
existing operating environments, rather than solely tied to Longhorn.”

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