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News Analysis: Longhorn Server Sidesteps the Question

The next version of Windows server has a code name now, but not much else. Microsoft sort of ended months of speculation at its financial analysts meeting in July by declaring that the code-name for the next version of the Windows Server will be "Longhorn" instead of the other major candidate, "Blackcomb." But Microsoft still hasn't finalized crucial decisions on the underlying issue that made the whole debate important.

Presumably, the reason the Longhorn versus Blackcomb name question mattered was timing. Either:

  • Microsoft would hustle to release a server simultaneously with the Windows "Longhorn" client, currently scheduled for 2005,
  • Or Microsoft would wait the four years or so Redmond usually requires between server releases, and pump out the update as "Blackcomb."

    Now Microsoft will adhere to the standard schedule, a Microsoft spokesperson said. "Microsoft has heard from customers that delivering a new server operating system version approximately every 3-4 years is the schedule that will best meet their needs. Microsoft has committed to delivering the next version of the Windows Server operating system within that approximate timeframe," the spokesperson said. That puts the Longhorn Server release in 2006 or 2007. Blackcomb had been sort of a 2007-2008 timeframe project.

    Microsoft's reasoning for naming the thing Longhorn is to signal the importance of a forthcoming wave of Longhorn products, which Steve Ballmer has likened to a Big Bang that will now include client and server operating systems and another rev of Visual Studio, code-named "Orcas." Does anybody else remember when Microsoft originally announced Longhorn as a sort of quick and dirty follow-on to Windows XP?

    Actually, it looks like Microsoft's answer to the question of delivering sooner (Longhorn) or later (Blackcomb) turned out to be both. Microsoft will miss the Longhorn client ship date by a year or two, assuming no major slips on either piece. But the plan calls for a client-then-server shipment schedule close together enough to avoid the need for kludgey server extensions that have been discussed as a way to help Windows Server 2003 support the Windows Longhorn client improvements.

    Unlike three years ago after the Windows 2000 launch when Microsoft already had a detailed set of features for the Whistler (later Windows Server 2003) release, Microsoft is currently pretty vague on what's next. "Microsoft is early in the planning process for Longhorn Server, and are engaging with customers and partners to get feedback on their requirements," the spokesperson said. "In the coming months we are working to determine what the right timeframe, feature set and innovations [are that] will deliver the best value to our customers." In broad terms, a PowerPoint slide at the financial analyst meeting set some expectations. They include Advanced Data Services (WinFS), the next-generation file system; mobility enhancements, enhanced Web services code-named "Indigo"; and inclusion of technologies being developed in several existing initiatives such as the Dynamic Systems Initiative. Not a lot to go on.

    So now we know what to call Microsoft's next server OS. That at least makes it easier to talk about it. But the hard work in Redmond of actually sorting out what features will be included in Longhorn Server has hardly started.

  • About the Author

    Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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