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Allchin: Don't call it 'Shorthorn'

Despite the removal of WinFS, Longhorn will not be short on features, Windows chief Jim Allchin tells CNET

The decision to scale back Longhorn was spurred by developers and computer makers who valued on-time delivery over advanced data management features, according to Windows chief Jim Allchin.

In an interview Friday with CNET, Allchin explained that the decision announced Friday to strip an advanced file system dubbed WinFS from Longhorn was made to ensure that the new OS could be shipped in 2006.

"My goal is to have Longhorn the highest-quality OS we've ever shipped," said Allchin, the software giant's group vice president for platforms. "At one level, you could say, 'I've had enough,' and so we're on a path to drive up the quality level."

Specifically, Allchin said that when the company was finalizing Windows XP Service Pack 2 and updates to Media Center and Tablet software, he turned his attention to Longhorn and realized that the project's ambitions and time tables were not in sync.

Allchin indicated that PC makers and chipmaker Intel were eager to see that the next version of Windows would take advantage of hardware improvements--and that they could plan for certain release in 2006. He noted that the PC makers' concerns about Longhorn's release "had been ratcheting up" during the first half of 2004.

The winding down of the other Windows-related projects "gave me the time to sort of step back and say, 'OK, are we on the right path, given the feedback?' And I've had feedback of, 'Are you going to have an OS there to support the hardware improvements that we are doing? Are you going to help us on the deployments? And by the way, we love your vision...but can you give us higher assurance about when it's going to be available?'"

In early July, "I said to myself, 'We should change.' And we've been thinking through that since then." Allchin then met with top executives, including CEO Steve Ballmer and Chairman Bill Gates, to explain his concerns and then conferred with some project leaders about how feasible it was to extract WinFS from Longhorn.

Asked whether any personnel had been reassigned as a result, Allchin said, "We're going to be clearer about responsibilities...but no changes workwise at all."

Removing WinFS likely stalls, for at least another couple years, the company's longstanding dream of a file system that connects a file name with its contents, who authored it and other information. WinFS is widely viewed as a technology that will significantly enhance the ability to store and retrieve the thousands of documents, e-mail messages, music files and other data that are being stored on PCs. The company now expects WinFS to be in the beta-testing phase when Longhorn in available to consumers in 2006.

Allchin said the moves will keep the company from having to scale back WinFS and will enable Microsoft to implement it on PCs and servers at the same time, something internal Microsoft testers said was important.

Despite the removal of WinFS from Longhorn, Allchin was adamant that the new OS will contain enough features to be compelling for consumers and PC makers.

"There's no question--we made some trade-offs here. I couldn't do everything that everybody wanted from the customer perspective, and they were very clear in what trade-off they wanted us to make," he said.

Still, he said, dubbing Longhorn without WinFS as "Shorthorn" is "derogatory," because the operating system "is packed full of capabilities." Some of the features he mentioned were "great roaming support," .Net Framework 2.0, "new browsing capabilities," the "fresh" user interface, improved migrations and deployments, "more resilience to malware" and "a new photo experience."

Then again, without WinFS as a focal point for what to expect in Longhorn, Allchin conceded that people may not understand what Longhorn is all about. Microsoft has largely talked about Longhorn from the perspective of what it means to a developer and has yet to talk about the changes to the user interface and the more consumer-oriented benefits that would come with the software.

As a result, Longhorn had come to be thought of largely from the major architectural changes Microsoft was making.

"I don't think people have any idea what Longhorn really is all about," he said. "There's so many great capabilities that we're working on that we haven't shared."