Microsoft has put back the release of Longhorn until 2006, says Mary-Jo Foley of Microsoftwatch, basing her reasoning on presentations at last week's Microsoft worldwide partner conference, where company execs "casually slipped into their presentations that Longhorn is three years away from debut."
The reasoning is impeccable. If Longhorn is 'real' 2005 (as opposed to fake 2005, which is RTM New Year's Eve), then it's for the Q4 market and it should now be less than two years away. If it's three years away, then it's for the Q4 2006 market. Microsoft is not yet waving Powerpoints with 2006 on them, but it's customary for company execs to drop these verbal signposts prior to the reformulation of roadmaps.
But a 2006 date has consequences, knocking back other products and widening the gap into which Microsoft might feel the need to drop interim releases. Pushing back the client may make the decision on whether or not there's going to be a Longhorn Server or not simpler.
Without getting back into that little mess too deeply, we might suggest that putting back Longhorn to 2006 and Server to 2007 could possibly solve a number of Microsoft roadmapping headaches, as the company might not have to figure out how to deliver the server functionality for the client without disrupting its business customers by dumping a new server version on them too soon.
But as Mary-Jo points out, it also means it has difficulties with all of the new features which have come into the "just hang on for Longhorn" category. Some of these it might need to keep user interest in Windows stoked, some (e.g. Next Generation Secure Computing Base/Palladium) to please partners and open up new revenue streams.
It has repeatedly denied suggestions that there will be an interim 'XP SE' edition before Longhorn, but if it now has two more Christmas sales periods to cater for before the big one, we can surely begin to doubt how sustainable these denials will be. From the point of view of delivery of technology, the service packs for XP and Server due next year could provide a vehicle. Tagged as security updates, they're already being described as 'service packs on steroids' and will surely be pushed harder than is usual for such beasts. A reputable company would no doubt refrain from mixing critical security updates with sweetening eye-candy, but Microsoft has not always been able to resist the urge to do so. So we suspect.
That however does not help sell new machines and new Windows licences. The service packs will be free, to people who've already bought computers, and it doesn't help at all with Christmas 2004. So do we go for XP SE, or do we think of the next special edition iteration, in the footsteps of Tablet and Media Center? The latter, we'd guess - how about the secure, communications-oriented PC, aimed at business first? ®