Microsoft's Longhorn schedule has in the past couple of years been vagueness bordering on chaos, ETAs for Longhorn the client being things largely things you'd deduce from the hints execs dropped in presentations, while even the existence of the server version has been the subject of conflicting public hand-wringing by the High Command. Yesterday, however, Microsoft moved to nail it all down - we have therefore reached one of those points in history where, briefly, all is predictable and understandable. Nearly.
Savour it, it's unlikely to last. Yesterday's announcements were specifically about the server version, but as the company's current policy is for synced releases, the client version clearly comes into it. Longhorn Server is scheduled to ship in 2007, following on from the client version which is expected around mid-2006. There will be pattern driving the releases in that Microsoft intends to produce a new major release every four years, and a more minor update every two years.
This is clearly an attempt to square the circle as regards corporate clients; they want predictable, more sedate releases while Microsoft needs more frequent releases in order to get new technologies into the market. Whether this actually does square the corporates is debatable, and rather depends on whether the system results in them having to overhaul their systems every four years or every two. And indeed on which particular year it turns out to be.
Alongside the major and minor releases you'll also have service packs, which means more hassle. But the minor updates every two years will likely make it less necessary for Microsoft to slip updates into service packs. It's doing this with XP SP2, but following corporate complaints (they want fixes and updates to be separated) it's promised not to do this at least twice in the past. So, 'just this one more time then we'll be good'? Maybe.
Even yesterday, however, the two/four year cycle didn't look particularly convincing. It is something that Microsoft says it's working towards, rather than being an iron rule that now applies to anything, so we can confidently expect some running faster to catch up and some slippage. The period in the run-up to Longhorn Server is closer, so it's clearer and more obviously achievable. Server 2003 SP1 will be out this year, and this will include 64-bit support. The update to Server 2003 will be out next year (not two years, yes, we know, but two years before Server 2007), and SP2 for Server 2003 is down for 2006. Beyond 2007, expressions like '2009 timeframe' and '2010+' start to creep in, so don't go betting your life or anything... ®