Despite earlier suggestions to the contrary (which we didn't believe anyway) Microsoft may be planning an interim version of Windows XP to fill the chasm between last year's rollout of XP itself, and the next big one, Longhorn, which quite possibly won't hit until 2006 or later. According to an eWeek piece by Mary Jo Foley (who we have missed greatly since Ziff Davis hid her in a paid-for newsletter), Microsoft is proposing to reach for the bottle again, having foresworn the demon release cycle treadmill just a few short months ago.
Well OK, maybe Mary Jo doesn't put it quite like that. She postulates a minor "Yukon" update that would ship in the 2003-4 timeframe. Yukon, aka what SQL Server did next, moves us towards the new file system roadmapped for Longhorn, and Microsoft is currently using the word to label the period between now and Longhorn. So although The Register ordinarily takes a fairly sour view of Microsoft's interim releases, which we feel tend to be service packs with a few flashy bits stuck on, there is some kind of argument for a Yukon 'XP 2,' or XP SE.
There will be Yukon technology that Microsoft will want to get out and in use in advance of Longhorn, which as described earlier this year is a hugely ambitious, ground-up rewrite and can therefore be expected to be a complete pig to get out of the door. You'll note that the way Bill told it back in June was that Microsoft had considered whether to go for one big bang or to make incremental changes, and had decided to go for the one big bang. But... if it does go for an interim, then would we not be seeing incremental changes starting to feed back into the roadmap after all?
It strikes us, however, that there may be less to Longhorn, or at least to what Bill Gates says about Longhorn, than meets the eye. Microsoft is apparently starting with a blank sheet of paper with Longhorn, but as recent job ads made clear, it's also starting with a blank sheet of paper with Palladium. Starting with two blank sheets of paper around the same time strikes us as weird, particularly as Palladium will become more and more of an influence on Microsoft's OS development the closer it gets. It would seem to us to make sense for Palladium to be the major effort (given the security imperative) and for Longhorn to get subsumed in Palladium, or to be transformed into a 'set of technologies' that appears in other products, or just to get busted back down into a less ambitious revamp of Windows XP.
Which it at one time was, with Blackcomb then being the biggie. As regards timing of the interim release, it would seem logical for Microsoft to do it in a year's time, the major question here being whether the company would be likely to go for a retail product or just roll it out to the OEMs for use in new PCs. Historically Microsoft has pushed out a serious of minor revs packaged as upgrades, but despite the bullish noises it habitually makes when rolling these out, OS upgrades sold at retail really are not a significant money-spinner for Microsoft. Normal people use the operating system that came with the machine until it breaks (we mean until the machine breaks here - the OS started breaking a lot earlier), they do not buy OS upgrades.
And Microsoft is also no doubt looking forward to seeing how effective this year's experiments in interim releases are. Because of course, we already have two interim releases, XP Tablet PC and Media Center editions. Both of these are fairly minor revs of XP, and rather than being made available at retail they're being positioned as enablers for new classes of hardware. If this results in good sales for these new classes of hardware then it's going to produce rather more revenue for Microsoft than trying to sell upgrades.
And even if it doesn't, the basic idea still seems sound, and worth persisting with. Sell more hardware by making hardware more compelling, therefore sell more Windows. So the question is, we reckon, what is it that Microsoft thinks will be compelling for the fall 03 market? And possibly, whether a Yukon edition could be packaged in such a way as to be a compelling upgrade for the business market as well. ®