Longhorn Reloaded

Longhorn Reloaded

About two months ago, I started warning folks to watch for a major Windows Longhorn retrenchment in early 2004. I had expected Microsoft to seriously rethink its larger Longhorn strategy and make changes potentially as colossal as .Net. Around the beginning of the millennium, Microsoft made .Net into a “bet the company” strategy, but later backed away from its boldest ambitions: Moving into the subscription content and Web services market. Microsoft execs also have talked about betting the company on Longhorn.

I would consider last week’s Windows XP Reloaded announcement the first step in the Longhorn retrenchment process.

Longhorn is Microsoft’s boldest Windows upgrade plan since the company abandoned Cairo about a decade ago. The products share many similar design goals. But Longhorn’s delivery schedule–I’ve been saying no sooner than 2006–has been looking increasingly difficult to meet. As I blogged last week, Microsoft has too many pieces to put into place to realistically meet 2006; similarly, I see the colossal number of changes coming in Windows XP Service Pack 2 as giving businesses plenty of behavioral and software changes to contend with. SP2 could further slow Windows XP upgrades.

Already, slow upgrades have plagued Windows XP. As I blogged before (here, here and here), Microsoft hasn’t effectively evangelized Windows XP. That’s not a good situation, considering the growing hype around Linux. I would consider any company using older Windows versions–that’s one in five large businesses running version 95 somewhere–as candidates for Linux experimentation.

How much or how little a threat Linux poses to Windows is a topic for an upcoming report. Whether Linux is or is not a threat is immaterial; Microsoft clearly perceives a threat. In the latter 1990s, I doubted that Netscape could steal Microsoft’s operating system crown, but Microsoft saw enough of a threat to set off the so-called browser wars.

With Linux a perceived threat now in the backdrop of slow Windows XP conversions, Microsoft has plenty of good reasons to turn up the hype around its current OS and turn down the volume on Longhorn. Microsoft also has to be concerned too much Longhorn hype could further stall Windows XP upgrades. Worse, Longhorn will usher in so many changes, many businesses might further stall upgrades.

If the company looks seriously at the failure of Windows XP evangelism, the perceived Linux threat and Longhorn’s ambitious design goals, strategy retrenchment is a sensible approach.

Some news reports already are talking about XP Reloaded leading to a delay in Longhorn’s delivery. But, I see that as having been an inevitable outcome for some time. I would look for Microsoft to either push out Longhorn’s release or deliver a less ambitious upgrade within the original schedule. At least, those are two options I would recommend the company consider.  [Microsoft Monitor]

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