Microsoft’s Longhorn OS to be confined to desktop

Microsoft Corp. has confirmed that a forthcoming release of the Windows operating system code-named Longhorn will be intended for desktops only and will not have a corresponding server release like previously announced.

In addition, the follow-on to Longhorn, code-named Blackcomb, will only be a server release without a companion desktop version. Microsoft has said the Blackcomb release will be the full .Net version of the operating system.

When Microsoft shipped Windows 2000 it highlighted the fact that the desktop and server operating systems were now on the same release cycle, giving companies a cleaner upgrade option. That, however, disintegrated with the follow-on release that was code-named Whistler and divided into last year’s release of Windows XP desktop and the forthcoming Windows.Net Server 2003.

As recently as September, however, Microsoft was still talking about Longhorn bringing back the synchronization of server and desktop operating systems. Microsoft has been working on builds of Longhorn server internally for some time.

But ship dates have been slipping, and rumours have been circulating that Microsoft would fill the gap with an interim release to update Windows XP.

Concurrently, the economy has been forcing many companies to readjust their upgrade plans. Given all that, Microsoft says it saw fit to also adjust its timetables.

“Customers have said, given deployment cycles and budget constraints, that to have a release of the server operating system in the Longhorn timeframe would not be a good fit for them,” said a Microsoft spokesperson.

Longhorn was originally planned for a 2003 release, but delivery of Windows.Net Server 2003, due more than a year ago, has now slipped into that time slot.

Jim Allchin, group vice-president for platforms, said earlier this year that Longhorn was now planned for 2005, but the Microsoft spokesperson would not say if that date refers to the server, desktop or both.

It could be that the Longhorn desktop may be coming sooner, however, given Microsoft’s recently introduced Licensing 6.0 program and Software Assurance upgrade program that puts users on two- or three-year contracts for upgrade rights. Windows XP users will likely want to see something for their money if they have bought into Licensing 6.0.

“I am not surprised by the schizophrenia,” says Laura DiDio, an analyst with the Yankee Group. DiDio says the changes are likely an indication that building the .Net infrastructure is much more complex than Microsoft imagined.

She says the turmoil at Microsoft provides ammunition for companies negotiating licensing contracts.

“Now it’s important for C-level executives to negotiate Blackcomb into their contracts,” DiDio says.