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Microsoft reins in Longhorn for 2006 launch

It's aiming to release the Windows update by the first half of 2006--which means scaling back some of its more ambitious plans for features.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
3 min read
Microsoft said on Friday that it is aiming to release Longhorn in the first half of 2006--a move that will require the company to scale back some of its more ambitious plans for the next version of Windows.

The company said Longhorn will still include three major advances: a new file system known as WinFS, a new graphics engine dubbed Avalon and a Web Services architecture known as Indigo.

"There may be specific features within those subsystems that will be scaled back," lead product manager Greg Sullivan said. Sullivan would not identify which features have been trimmed but said such efforts are typical of all new releases of the Windows operating system.

"It's a matter of scaling back by degrees," Sullivan said. "In some cases, the scenarios won't be as all-encompassing."

Microsoft has been reluctant to pin down a date for the launch of the Windows update, though Chief Software Architect Bill Gates said recently that 2006 was a likely target. Even now, there is no public target for Longhorn's release, Sullivan said, but acknowledged the company's internal goal of shipping it by the middle of 2006.

Microsoft plans to cut features from Longhorn and roll them into a future release of Windows, code-named Blackcomb, Jim Allchin, vice president of Microsoft's platform group, told CNET News.com last month. Details on the changes to Longhorn were first reported earlier Friday by BusinessWeek.

Work on Longhorn slowed after Microsoft shifted programmers from that effort to the task of adding security features into Windows XP Service Pack 2, or SP2, an update due to be released shortly.

In an interview with CNET News.com last month, CEO Steve Ballmer said Microsoft had made a decision to prioritize SP2 at Longhorn's expense. Ballmer said all the major components would still be part of the OS but that the company was planning to "carve a couple of features around the edges."

Microsoft also said Friday that the next version of Office, due to arrive at about the same time as Longhorn, will run on prior versions of Windows. The company has talked about an Office version designed to specifically take advantage of Longhorn's new features.

"Microsoft knows that customers have different roll-out needs," a representative said. "We'll be working to ensure they can use next version of Office with other recent versions of Windows as well (as Longhorn)."

The company representative declined to discuss specific changes to features planned for the next version of Office, saying "it's very early in the development process to speculate on specifics."

Microsoft has also decided not to move ahead with a full interim release of Windows before Longhorn.

"Any smart company is going to have contingency plans," Sullivan said. "That's what we were doing. Longhorn is the next release of Windows."

However, a more modest update to Windows XP still under consideration could include a new Media Player, among other new features. Sullivan said no final decisions have been made on that.

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Allchin said the software giant also plans a marketing effort to tout technological advances that are only possible when running Windows XP, such as the ability to connect to the portable Media Center devices that are set to debut later this year.

As for where the cuts to Longhorn may come, some may be in the extent to which the WinFS file system is implemented. Sullivan said work is focused on making sure that WinFS is accessible from within desktop PCs running Longhorn.

"We're still scoping out exactly what are the specific features and scenarios that will be delivered," Sullivan said. "The essence of the WinFS file system will be delivered."

Microsoft executives said last month that the first widespread test, or beta, version of the software, would likely not arrive until the first half of next year. The company had originally promised that a beta would arrive this summer.

Microsoft gave out very early code to developers at last October's professional developer conference in Los Angeles. Sullivan said the company will release an updated preview version of Longhorn at WinHec, the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, scheduled for early May in Seattle. The company will also offer hardware makers more details on the types of machines that will be needed in order to run Longhorn, he added.

"We are going to provide some broad guidance to hardware manufacturers about the kind of systems that will be great Longhorn systems," Sullivan said.