Longhorn ship date muddled

Shipping dates for the next major Windows release, code-named Longhorn, have fueled speculation that Microsoft Corp. may be plotting an interim release.

But Rogers Weed, corporate vice president in Microsoft's Windows product management group, told Computerworld last week that no such interim release is being discussed by executives in the operating system group.

"I can't tell you that there aren't some developers over in a building somewhere discussing it," Weed said. "But in the management meetings I sit in for the Windows business, it's not being discussed."

Weed said the focus is "all about Longhorn" and "how to get the best Longhorn release we can get." He noted that it's difficult to pinpoint a ship date for Longhorn "because of how far away it is." But he said he can "at least give people some comfort level" that they're not going to see something until the middle of 2004 at the earliest.

During a keynote speech at last week's Gartner Symposium/ITxpo here, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said only that a new Windows release is coming during the next three years. At other times, Microsoft executives have made vague statements that Longhorn is years away.

Corporate IT professionals hoping to do some long-term planning for the next major Windows release got no definitive answers at ITxpo. Analysts gave the Longhorn client operating system a 50% probability of shipping in the first half of 2005 (40% in the second half of 2004), and they projected that the Longhorn server operating system won't hit the market until 2006.

Those predictions conflict with Microsoft's stated intention to ship the client and server operating systems at the same time. But Microsoft wasn't able to make good on that pledge for its last operating system, either.

The Windows XP client operating system shipped roughly a year ago. The server operating system based on the same kernel, Windows .Net Server, was supposed to ship at the same time, but that has slipped and is now expected to ship in the first quarter of next year.

Slipping ship dates don't tend to bother many corporate users, who often bemoan the difficulties of keeping up with the latest Windows releases, given the potential cost and effort required to do companywide upgrades.

But this time, some customers who signed up for Microsoft's controversial new Software Assurance maintenance program, which charges them an annual fee for the right to the latest software, may turn sour if they don't see a major upgrade during their three-year contract terms.

"I think we're very well aware that if Longhorn is more than three years after XP releases that we have an issue there with our customers," said Weed. Asked if Microsoft would do something if Longhorn's ship date slips, Weed said, "I think we will."

He wouldn't speculate what form any action might take.

For some customers, it won't be a burning issue, even if they signed up for Software Assurance.

John Wisniewski, global infrastructure director at Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. in Chicago, said his company signed a Software Assurance contract on July 31, the deadline date. But he said that because Wrigley has a "dual strategy," with two operating systems running companywide at any given time, he won't be upset, since half the company still needs Windows XP.

"It doesn't matter to us what the next one [operating system] is," Wisniewski said. A bigger determining factor is the global availability of hardware, he said.

But with regard to the server operating system, some users are anxious to see a new Windows release for its promised improvements in workload management and partition awareness.

Rick Stuller, chief information manager at Hawaiian Electric Co. in Honolulu, said his firm has about 150 servers running Windows 2000, adding that he hopes to do some server consolidation.

Stuller said he's not sure if the Windows System Resource Manager, which is due to ship with Enterprise and Datacenter editions of Windows .Net Server, will be able to help or whether third-party products from vendors such as VMware Inc. might make more sense from a total cost of ownership standpoint. But he does know that the potential wait to 2006 for workload management improvements in Longhorn would be "too long," he said.

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