Microsoft: Considering 'marginal' changes to Longhorn

Microsoft confirmed this week that it's evaluating features and functional scenarios that might be scaled back in the next major Windows release, code-named Longhorn.

But Greg Sullivan, a lead product manager in Microsoft's Windows client group, said the company is looking at "fairly marginal features" and has no plans to make significant changes to the Longhorn vision that it laid out last October at its Professional Developers Conference (PDC).

"The normal part of any development process is looking at the project end to end and prioritizing features and scenarios and capabilities," Sullivan said. "That's the process we're in with Longhorn now."

Microsoft distributed a developer preview edition of Longhorn at the PDC, and the company plans to refresh the developer preview for those attending next month's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference in Seattle, according to Sullivan. He said Microsoft will also provide updated guidance at WinHEC, although the Longhorn review process will continue after the event, since the first beta isn't due for months.

At the PDC, Microsoft said the first beta of Longhorn was expected in the second half of this year. The date for the beta release is now pegged for the first half of next year, Sullivan confirmed. "The final release really will be determined by the customer feedback we get and when the product meets the quality standards our customers require," he added.

During last month's Gartner Symposium in San Diego, Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect, said Longhorn is "not a date-driven release." But he also acknowledged that a 2006 release date is "probably valid speculation." The company earlier last year had said the product would ship in 2005.

A Microsoft spokesman confirmed last week that the "internal target date" for the Longhorn client operating system is the first half of 2006, but he quickly added that the ship date isn't nailed down.

Longhorn has three major components. Avalon is the code name for a new presentation system featuring a unified hardware-accelerated graphics programming model for video, animation and 2-D and 3-D graphics. Indigo is the communications infrastructure and programming model for building advanced service-oriented applications. WinFS is the new storage subsystem.

Sullivan said that under the current system, files are stored in folders that are subdirectories in the hierarchical file system. With WinFS, objects and the relationships between them will be stored, and each object in the store will have XML-based metadata associated with it so users can search, find and act on the information in a more flexible and powerful way, he said.

Sullivan said it's possible that elements of the three major Longhorn subsystems might be scaled back, but he characterized potential changes as "little things." He said the product scoping process involves "low-priority marginal features that may not make the cut."

BusinessWeek Online recently claimed that Microsoft plans to cut some of the most far-reaching pieces of Longhorn and reported that the current plan calls for the new file system to work on PCs but not extend to files shared over a corporate network. BusinessWeek said it based the information on two Microsoft e-mail messages it obtained.

"There's a degree of specificity there that I didn't arrive at reading the same internal communication," Sullivan said. He added that it's too soon to say what the enabled scenarios will or will not be. "WinFS was never designed as a way to index the Internet," he said. "We're looking at various ways that corporate data across corporate intranets can be exposed to enable users to interact with that data."

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