Microsoft cuts features to hit 2006 Longhorn release date

Microsoft Corp. recently said it will sacrifice some key advances it had planned for Longhorn so it can deliver the successor to Windows XP in 2006.

The next Windows release won’t ship with the WinFS unified storage system, one of the three key components of Longhorn, as outlined by Microsoft at its Professional Developers Conference (PDC) last October.

“We do have an ambitious vision for the future of Windows,” said Greg Sullivan, a lead product manager at Microsoft.

The PDC was the first time Microsoft talked publicly about many of the features it planned for Longhorn. Company chairman Bill Gates hyped the operating system as “the biggest release of this decade, the biggest since Windows 95” and called WinFS a “Holy Grail.” Elliot Katz, product manager of Windows Client with Microsoft Canada, said the company still stands behind this “Holy Grail”claim. “The Longhorn vision is a really big vision (and it)…will be a very significant release.”

Microsoft in April said it was clipping some minor features in Longhorn in order to get a beta version out next year, but that the product would still have all the major components it discussed at PDC, including WinFS. But after several delays in the development of Longhorn, the operating system is now looking more like an evolutionary release of Windows instead of the “big bang” revolution the software maker made it out to be.

Katz said the environment changed dramatically between when Longhorn was planned and today. “When we first started talking about Longhorn the issue with (Windows XP) Service Pack 2…wasn’t something that was on the table.” Simply put, Microsoft was overly ambitious in its vision for Longhorn, according to Rob Helm, research director at Directions on Microsoft Inc. in Kirkland, Wash. “At the PDC in 2003, Microsoft presented a concept that was bigger than they could deliver,” he said.

Microsoft now plans to deliver WinFS after it releases Longhorn as an update to the operating system, Sullivan said. The storage system will be in beta testing when Longhorn becomes available in 2006, he said.

WinFS is built on top of the current Windows NTFS and uses relational engine technology from Microsoft’s forthcoming SQL Server 2005 database. The storage system promises to make it easier for users to find documents and e-mail messages, for example, by tagging those with XML metadata. Katz said even without WinFS in the Longhorn release, many of its components will be installed, allowing for more advanced and quicker searches, though he admitted the standardized schemas for objects — including Web sites, e-mails and Word documents — won’t be part of it.

With WinFS ripped out of Longhorn and Indigo communications subsystem, WinFX application programming and Avalon graphic system brought down to Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP, Longhorn has lost its glare as a major new Windows release, said Helm.

“To me it looks like Longhorn as such does not exist anymore. There will be a 2006 Windows release that will have that code name, but the three feature sets that Microsoft originally presented for Longhorn won’t be tied to it anymore,” Helm said.

— with files from Chris Conrath

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