Longhorn goes to pieces

Some much-hyped features of Microsoft's next major release of Windows are being cut back, while others may debut ahead of schedule, CNET News.com has learned.

Bill Gates' dream of an end-to-end search tool for corporate networks remains just that: a dream, at least until the end of the decade.

Advanced search features that Gates has termed the "Holy Grail" of Longhorn, the next major version of Windows, won't be fully in place until 2009, Bob Muglia, the senior vice president in charge of Windows server development, told CNET News.com.

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What's new:
Advanced search features that Bill Gates has termed the "Holy Grail" of Longhorn, the next major version of Windows, won't be fully in place until 2009.

Bottom line:
The shifting features and delivery schedules for Longhorn are further indications that Microsoft's goals for the operating system may have outstripped the company's ability to build and deliver the software.

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The technology, called WinFS, is an add-on the Windows file system that Microsoft says will make it easier for users to find data such as documents, e-mail messages and multimedia files--no matter what their format--on local PCs and across the network.

Microsoft does plan to include WinFS in the client version of Longhorn, which is expected to ship by mid-2006. And Muglia said WinFS will be included in the server version of Longhorn, slated to debut in 2007 . However, "some of the functionality of WinFS and some of the scenarios may be limited in terms of what it can do. I don't know that we will have all of the scale to the level where we would like to have it, so that you could use it for very high-volume enterprise servers," he said.

The translation: WinFS won't be fully useable on a large-scale basis to search content across corporate networks when Longhorn server ships. "So it could be that for example, you could use WinFS as a server for collaboration in workgroups. But if you want to support hundreds of users, that may wait for the update release," Muglia said.

Bob Muglia, senior VP, Microsoft

The shifting delivery schedules for Longhorn are further indication that Microsoft's goals for the operating system may have outstripped the company's ability to build and deliver the software. And other Longhorn changes are under way. While WinFS has been scaled back, another major feature, code-named Indigo, may arrive sooner than expected, most likely before Longhorn, Muglia said.

The concepts behind the WinFS project have been in development in one form or another at Microsoft for more than a decade . The search idea, which Gates has personally championed at Microsoft, was originally conceived as an addition to Windows in the early 1990s.

With WinFS, Microsoft hopes to address a conundrum as old as the computer industry itself: how to quickly find and work with a piece of information, no matter what its format, from any location. Such search technology could also be a powerful sales tool, as Microsoft looks to give both businesses and consumers a reason to upgrade to Longhorn.

But the plan has so far proven to be too ambitious. "There were a lot of dreams that people had inside of Microsoft for what Longhorn server would do. There is a natural process, whereby as a release transitions from the early dream stage into the reality stage, the functionality and the scenarios get cut back. That's part of the natural process that every release goes through," Muglia said.

Last month, Jim Allchin, the Microsoft executive in charge of all Windows development, told CNET News.com that some features of Longhorn were being cut from the first releases of the software in order to accelerate development.

Muglia said Allchin was referring to WinFS work. "There (are) areas of maturity associated with what you would expect from an enterprise-class file system that we are going to continue to work on."

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Bob Brown, CEO, BlackBall

Analysts said they expect other alterations in the software's feature set, since Microsoft needs to begin a testing process for Longhorn with its partners and customers. Based on the feedback from customers, Microsoft will either scale back hoped-for features or prioritize others, said Al Gillen, an analyst with research firm IDC.

"Longhorn is still so far out there, I don't think anything is locked down yet," Gillen said. "Because this is a step-by-step process, I think it's too early to proclaim what's in and what's not in Longhorn when even Microsoft doesn't know."

As the dates for future release get closer, Microsoft will be able to get a better handle on what features will make it into Longhorn.

"Three years is a long time in the development world. I would expect...more clarification on what we're going to get," said Gillen.

Microsoft's release schedule--and choice of features--is partially motivated by its Software Assurance licensing program, which includes the option to upgrade to new release as part of an annuity contract, Gillen said. Customers pay an annual fee to the program to get regular updates. "A lot of customers measure the success of (Software Assurance) on whether they get an upgrade or not," he said.

Indigo may come sooner
While some Longhorn capabilities have been put on hold, at least one major feature, a new communications system code-named Indigo , may debut ahead of Longhorn as part of a Windows Server update, Muglia said.

Indigo is expected to be released before Longhorn server debuts, according to Microsoft executives. The company has decided to make the Indigo communications software, which is meant to ease data interoperability between different systems, available on other Windows operating systems before Longhorn is generally available, Eric Rudder, senior vice president of server and tools at Microsoft, told CNET News.com.

"We have the ability to release Indigo Web services technology and have it run on Windows Server 2003, have it run on Windows XP client and just be included when you install Windows Longhorn," Rudder said. "We haven't decided on a date, but we are going to make Indigo available on other (Windows) road maps."


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The Indigo software is an overhaul of the communications "wiring" in Windows to work with Extensible Markup Language-based protocols called Web services. Indigo will include implementations of Web services protocols now under development, including reliable messaging and transactions, designed to make Web services-based applications industrial-strength.

Microsoft is still considering whether it will have an interim release of Windows that will have the Indigo communication software bundled in, Muglia said. The timing of any potential interim release will hinge on the progress of Longhorn server beta testing, which is slated to start in the first half of next year, he said. The beta period will not be long enough time to include Indigo in the "R2" update to Windows Server 2003, due in the second half of 2005.

Typically, Microsoft releases software such as Indigo, which is used only by software programmers, in downloadable development kits. When it ships as part of Windows, it will be accessible through WinFX, Longhorn's programming interface, which includes "run-time" software needed to run Windows applications, Rudder said.

An update to Web services-based communications software, called Web Services Enhancements 2.0, which will include reliable messaging and security enhancements, is slated for release "very soon," Rudder said.

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About the author

    Mike Ricciuti joined CNET in 1996. He is now CNET News' Boston-based executive editor and east coast bureau chief, serving as department editor for business technology and software covered by CNET News, Reviews, and Download.com. E-mail Mike.

     

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