Windows users anticipating Microsoft's next major version of the operating system had little to cheer in 2004.
That's because Longhorn--the code name for the new version of Microsoft's omnipresent operating system--is still in development, despite the grand coming-out party held by the company more than a year ago.
The first signs of trouble came in February, when a top Microsoft executive told CNET News.com that a test version of Longhorn was unlikely to debut this year, as promised.
Then, in May, another Microsoft executive said one of Longhorn's most anticipated new features, a new file system called WinFS, wouldn't be fully finished in Windows Server until possibly 2009. Microsoft says WinFS promises to make information stored on local PCs and corporate networks easier to find.
At the time, Microsoft said an initial version of WinFS would be shipped with Longhorn Server in 2007 and that the client version of the operating system would still include WinFS.
But Windows development schedules are a moving target these days. So, in August, Microsoft revamped the whole plan and said that in order to deliver the Longhorn client in 2006, WinFS wouldn't make the cut. Instead, the technology--already in and out of development for more than a decade--would be shipped as a test release, also in 2006.
The latest word, in early December, was that WinFS has been scrubbed from the initial release of Longhorn Server as well.
The news on the Windows front wasn't all bad in 2004, though. Microsoft did manage to ship a security-focused update for its Windows XP operating system, called Service Pack 2, after several delays.
Some companies decided to put the brakes on SP2's rollout, however, until all of the compatibility kinks with older systems could be worked out.
Also, a new consumer-themed version of the operating system, called Windows XP Media Center Edition, made its glitzy Hollywood debut in October. Microsoft hopes the new software, designed to make it easier to play videos and manage pictures and music, will drive sales of new PCs.
And news of the company's plans for an all-new, high-end version of Windows for supercomputer-class systems began leaking out in May.
But plans for a 64-bit version of Windows Server 2003--the current release of the software--were put on hold for additional development. Microsoft said Service Pack 1 of Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2003 x64 Edition and Windows XP Professional x64 Edition, expected by year's end, would instead ship in the first half of 2005.
The move was seen as a blow to Advanced Micro Devices, which has had its 64-bit desktop and server chips on the market for some time and has been waiting for a version of Windows that could take advantage of their capabilities.
Though Longhorn's incubation is taking much longer than expected, few customers seem in a hurry to move off of their older versions of Windows. Many customers, especially big businesses, continue to use long-in-the-tooth versions of Windows, such as Windows NT 4, Windows 98 and even Windows 95.
Sensing that problem, Microsoft extended support for Windows NT 4, which debuted in the late '90s. In December, the company said support would continue to be available in 2005, but at a price.
At the same time, Microsoft offered cut-rate versions of Windows to consumers in India, Russia, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia in an effort to grow its market share in developing countries. The move is also intended to slow piracy and stem the growth in popularity of the Linux operating system, which continues to gain ground against Windows.