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I know it is really premature to even start discussing this, but I would like to ask the question: “Will Longhorn still be Longhorn”? Although the official announcement isn't slated until later today, there has already been some musings about the subject over at Microsoft Watch. How do I feel about this? Mostly, I feel a great sadness (and I remind you: I know this is premature).


It is starting to look like Longhorn will become “Windows XP version 2“ rather than the revolutionary OS all of us were hoping for. While this possibility of course disappoints me, I think there is perhaps a deeper issue to be discovered here. From what has been said, the majority of cuts expected in Longhorn is for the purpose of getting the product out the door sooner. While I would like to ask the question “Does Microsoft really need to push Longhorn out the door quicker to satisfy it's customers?”, I think there is a better question to ask. In order for Microsoft to keep its customers happy, does a new operating system need to be released every five years?

The Apparent Problem

The apparent problem to me is that it appears that Microsoft does feel that it needs to release a new operating system every couple of years. It is no secret that end users don't like change. How much does an end sure appreciate having to upgrade their operating system every five years? Not much, in my opinion. Well, if we are in the software industry “to best satisfy our customers needs”, then why is our approach to product time-lines so contrary to what our customers desires are? Even as a developer, we have to be adapting new technology every couple of years in order to stay “on top of our game.“ To me, this is a problem with the industry as a whole.

The end user wants their computer to be like an appliance, or perhaps like a car. When you buy a car, you fully expect that car to last a long time. You do not expect to be forced to buy a new car every 7 years in order for it be fixed by mechanics. What if your car broke down but the mechanic couldn't fix it because it was “no longer supported“. I don't know about you, but I would be rightfully upset. However, I will admit this analogy breaks down when comparing an operating system to a car because of the level of investment required in a car compared to an operating system. When you buy an oven, you expect that oven to not only work for a long time, but for it to be supported so that you can get it fixed for a long time. While an oven is still cheaper than a car, the analogy still breaks down when comparing directly to an operating system. However, what if you count the amount of investment required for buying applications and the continued support of those applications? The analogy becomes a lot closer. As much as I'm excited about all the new innovations in the computer industry as a developer (I *am* a geek after all), as a consumer I will admit that I am frustrated from time to time.

As much as we claim to be in a “customer-driven“ industry, we are not. The customers do not drive the computer industry, the computer industry drives the customers. We force customers into a never-ending upgrade cycle where if you want to remain “productive“, you must upgrade, upgrade, upgrade. I believe that if you compare the lifetime of applications developed in 1960 to the lifetime of applications developed today, you will find that the lifetime of applications developed today is much shorter than their 1960 counterparts. I highly doubt that I will find a classic ASP site still running and being supported in 40 years. Why? Because it will have been upgraded to the “latest technology“ 36 years prior to that date.

Now, one can argue that this development of shorter lifetimes was necessary with the improvements in technology that have taken place. The question is when we will get to the point that computers are productive enough in order to remain stable for a set length of time. However, are remaining stable and continuing innovation necessarily mutually exclusive areas? No, not at all. Is there a potential solution that we could see start today to combat this problem. Absolutely.

The Possible Solution 

I think the possible solution to the above problem can been seen with the release of SP2 for Windows XP. If you ask me, SP2 is a major improvement to the core Windows XP operating system. If SP2 can improve Windows XP as much as it did, what is preventing future service packs from doing the same thing? I would like to think that Windows XP is engineered well enough to the point that continued service pack development can take place to continue evolving Windows XP as an operating system. However, to continue service pack development, should we stop development on Longhorn? Not at all.

Let me ask this: Why must the two be mutually exclusive? I can see a world in which Microsoft devotes many resources to continued service pack development and continues to release those service packs for free to the world. I can't even start to imagine how happy end users would be if they could keep an operating system running for even 10 years and have it continually improve for them without requiring them to drop any more money or time and effort to upgrade applications. While there is naturally a limit to how much improvement can take place, I don't think that limit is anywhere close to being reached with Windows XP. If you need graphical improvements to the OS, one need only look at the 3rd party skinning applications available to realize that there still lies great potential within Windows XP.

This doesn't mean that development on a new operating system should stop though. Only so-many improvements can be made to an operating system until its expandability limits are reached. At that point in time, the underlying internals of the operating system need to be re-written in order for more progress to be made. So the real solution in my mind is to have two development houses. One house is dedicated to the continuing improvement and maintenance of the current operating system. The other house is dedicated to the development of the "next" operating system. In this case, one house would be dedicated to the continued development of service packs for Windows XP, and the other house would be responsible for the development of Longhorn.

Don't cut features out of Longhorn. Continue developing Longhorn until your “nirvana“ is reached. By cutting so many features out of Longhorn, you are only hurting the end customer. The end user doesn't care if Longhorn arrives 2-3 years later. All they care about is if their applications continue to run today. Who are the ones that really care about Longhorn being released earlier? Us developers, and the company actually developing the operating system. I will continue to stand by my belief that the end user doesn't care about when Longhorn comes. As proof, how many customers are still using Windows 98, huh?

Of course, this does have potential to hurt the bottom line in any company that takes this approach. The key is for diversification. And I strongly believe that Microsoft is diversified enough to start down this road. After all, IBM is still around isn't it? Am I the only one who feels this way? Perhaps. Perhaps not.


I don't want to come off like I'm not seeing the big picture here though. While I put a big negative spin on the news, there is a very bright silver lining to this cloud. The biggest benefit that I see to what Microsoft is doing is that the Longhorn technologies will not be exclusive to Longhorn. They will all be available on Windows XP, I believe. To me, this is a good situation. In the context of Microsoft's current practices, I think this is a very wise decision. However, my thoughts above question whether the current context Microsoft has is the correct context to be in in the first place. And for that reason, I still question the value behind the decisions made because of the reasons that they were made (especially when I feel there is a better decision that will benefit both Microsoft and its customers). The glaring thing to me though is that Bill Gates is the millionaire and I'm just a lonely developer without hardly any monetary worth at all. Perhaps I'm the one who is off-base here?

What do all of you think?

Posted on Friday, August 27, 2004 2:39 PM Windows Client | Back to top

Comments on this post: Will Longhorn Still Be Longhorn?

# re: Will Longhorn Still Be Longhorn?
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I couldn't agree more. I thought the same sort of thing before, don't cut features; wait until it's ready.

And why XP version 2? Does anyone remember the difference between Win 95 and OSR1, 2 and 3. Then Windows 98 and Windows 98 Version 2. It was irritating. When I worked in service, customers wouldn't have a clue, except it was Windows 95 (or 98.) So call it Windows LH or something.

Left by TomB on Aug 27, 2004 3:15 PM

# re: Will Longhorn Still Be Longhorn?
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Most of the features won't be present in XP or 2000. They've said pretty plainly that Longhorn will be Longhorn and the bulk of it will stay there. Indigo is the only thing I see that will grace any other OS and I don't think MS is going to change their policies EVEN IF they cut out half of the crap they're doing.

Microsoft makes the bulk of it's money in the OS market. While Office is their greatest application, their OS is their single most money winning scheme. They have OEM so that all new computers can have their "latest and greatest". They WANT a new OS every couple of years because that means more money.

They get $0 for developing Windows XP now. Why? You're not buying any more into XP. You've already shelled out the $300 or so for it. You're not paying for service packs or Windows Updates. To Microsoft once you've paid your dues, you're not of much use. I'm not trying to sound harsh but any company that wouldn't think this way would be stupid because they'd be in the hole CONSTANTLY.

Microsoft wants Longhorn out earlier. A small group of people seem to want the same thing, namely the people working on it. Personally I adore XP and I believe I'll adore Longhorn based solely on the PDC build I played with for all of a couple of weeks. I would rather wait on a "next generation" OS than to be rushed with a "XP slightly upgraded" version they seem to be releasing.

While we're on the subject of technology half-life we should probably discuss computer hardware moreso than software. The hardware is driving Longhorn a lot these days and it's no surprise that every computer manufacturer EXPECTS you to buy a new computer every 3 years. Personally the only reason I would EVER want to upgrade this 2.4 ghz Dell Laptop is to play GAMES. Games are the only thing REQUIRING me to upgrade (purely because of the graphics card too). I have a crappy 866 mhz desktop that if it were 3 ghz or so I wouldn't be playing games on my laptop but I go through games like no one I know. I get so bored with them that it's not really a sound investment to upgrade solely for the sake of games.

My applications all run like a dream and honestly I could see myself using this computer for the rest of my life if everything hovered around this technology base. The sad truth is the world will constantly change and I will be pretty much forced to upgrade relatively soon whether I like it or not. While I can develop fine in .NET 1.1 now, by the time .NET 3.0 rolls around I'll need a 5ghz powerhouse to even use the runtimes probably.

I feel your pain though, really. I don't develop as a profession even though I studied to. I feel that computers now are at the speed and complexity they SHOULD be at for a while to come but I realize they won't be. Intel or AMD will have to make more money so they'll have to churn out new technology. It's merely the way the industry is setup. I'd rather have it this way than to pay a premium to use my computer every month or so though having a morphing, constantly upgraded system would be severely cool to have. You could pretty much have one now but it involves a good deal of cash as well as a good deal of hours in installation and repair. I think the industry is going to run into some serious issues regarding this soon and will have to forcibly work around it. Hopefully they won't introduce something else that eats away at our wallets.
Left by Jeremy Brayton on Aug 27, 2004 3:43 PM

# re: Will Longhorn Still Be Longhorn?
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Jeremy -

"Most of the features won't be present in XP or 2000. They've said pretty plainly that Longhorn will be Longhorn and the bulk of it will stay there. Indigo is the only thing I see that will grace any other OS and I don't think MS is going to change their policies EVEN IF they cut out half of the crap they're doing. "

While this *was* the case, it appears to be no more. If you read the press release just released this morning (, the press release clearly states that Microsoft will make "key elements of the Windows WinFXTM developer platform in "Longhorn" available for Windows XP and Windows ServerTM 2003". While that is a pretty broad statement, here is another quote directly from the press released:


"'Avalon' and 'Indigo' will allow us to build some exciting applications for our design and life-cycle management customers. Making 'Avalon' and 'Indigo' available on Windows XP as well as 'Longhorn' will allow us to think about exploiting these technologies sooner," said Scott Borduin, chief technology officer of Autodesk Inc.

"Bringing the core of the new WinFX platform down to Windows XP and Windows 2003 will allow WinFX applications to target a much larger installed base, making it a much more attractive platform for our education software


On another note, I understand perfectly that Microsoft would seem crazy by doing what I proposed since it is contrary in nature to what Captalism is all about. However, I think the argument that Microsoft is doing what is best for them breaks down when compared to other industries. How many other industries directly dictate to customers what they will or won't do? While the computer industry likes to say they are a "consumer-driven" industry, this is just blatently false.

Now, I wouldn't be making this same argument if we were comparing MS-DOS to Windows 95. I think that Windows XP is close enough to the point that there is less and less things being released that the customers actually care about. To the normal end user (like my grandparents), the only difference between Windows 95 and Windows XP is the eye-candy. XP just looks like a prettier Windows 95.

I'm not promoting to stop innovating though. If you stop innovating, then you are dead as a person. But innovation and platform stability (life-time wise) do not have to be mutually exclusive. That's all that I'm saying :).

Two things are for sure. 1) The computer industry is a *crazy* industry to be involved with. 2) There is probably a good reason that Bill Gates is rich and I am not.
Left by Jason Olson on Aug 27, 2004 3:57 PM

# re: Will Longhorn Still Be Longhorn?
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TomB -

Microsoft isn't calling it "Windows XP version 2". That was just a name I came up with to explain my frustration with how Longhorn is simply becoming an improved Windows XP rather than the revolutionary OS that we were all hoping for. And why is this? For the sole reason of being able to release the operating system by 2006.
Left by Jason Olson on Aug 27, 2004 3:58 PM

# re: Will Longhorn Still Be Longhorn?
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How many other industries directly dictate to customers what they will or won't do? While the computer industry likes to say they are a "consumer-driven" industry, this is just blatently false.

An effectively monopolistic industry. And I wouldn't call it the computer industry, I think it's more appropriate to say the "Microsoft industry".

I think a lot of the changes has to do with the nature of the microprocessor. If hardware doubles in power every year & a half, software can't help but be drag along.

In regards to MS' plan for Longhorn, it found it surprising, but not shocking, that WinFS will be delayed. They've already pushed networked WinFS back once, this time chucking the whole thing (until later). Also surprising is Avalon & Indigo will be avail. for XP. But not too shocking since those "pillars" were probably made modular by design & that Longhorn's codebase is XP's.
Left by Minh on Aug 27, 2004 4:30 PM

# re: Will Longhorn Still Be Longhorn?
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I agree, I think it would be great to continually improve XP. But what about the companies that make their living off the newest and best? The hardware companies that need to show off their new wares? I think the computer industry still relies on new versions of Windows too much for this two house approach to succeed.
Left by Mack D. Male on Aug 27, 2004 5:55 PM

# re: Will Longhorn Still Be Longhorn?
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Mack -

As much as I don't want to agree with you, I do. It's just the unfortunate fact of how the industry is built and how capitalism works in the first place. Because of the nature of capitalism, of course the industry is going to be kind of monopolistic. I guess I'm just shooting for the starts when I wish that the innovations could truly be for the customer. But another unfortunate effect is that most end users to give a flying rip about technological advancement. One can wish though :).
Left by Jason Olson on Aug 27, 2004 6:09 PM

# re: Will Longhorn Still Be Longhorn?
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That should be "most end users don't give a flying rip".....
Left by Jason Olson on Aug 27, 2004 6:10 PM

# re: Will Longhorn Still Be Longhorn?
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My bad. I should have included the DrasticallyPrematureDiscussion tag. I read the release report and it looks like the 3 pillars will be included in XP/2003 (Thank God).

It's good that some of us who are planning on migrating can leverage those technologies now instead of having to wait. I'm sure they won't be full blown Longhorn releases but they will be a decent interim toolset from which to use. I may be surprised and they are in fact the version that goes into Longhorn but I doubt it. MS will want to keep the real goodies bundled with it's OS.

The typical user is the parent or grandparent of most of us. Even though we're developers and we MAKE the system the majority of the people that use it do not think like us. I notice every little change because I manage computers and I want to leverage as much of the OS as possible. From an average home user, XP isn't different from 95. From someone who deals with Active Directory and all the enhancements in XP I get direct benefit out of using this OS versus a previous version. The typical user isn't going to maximize their OS in the way that someone like me would and I think that is the real issue. Take all of the people that wouldn't even run Windows Update. Windows Update didn't matter in 95 land and I think it was introduced after 98 was released.

But what about the companies that make their living off the newest and best?
If XP was developed with a micro-kernel type of technology the hardware developers could help derive hardware drivers relatively quickly so that they have adequate support. The problem with Windows now is it's strickly a x86 market and I don't know if it'll be coded in such a way to allow for things like *gasp* possibly running on a PowerPC. I'd love to see Windows natively run on a Mac. I think Apple would crap it's pants though. It's not unreasonable to code an OS that has a hardware API that allows for vendors to make your OS run on their system.

I do think there is a distinct marriage between the OS and the hardware right now. I personally think it stinks because I'm all up for more competition especially because it'll drive prices down. I can't really afford $300 for an OS when my computer costs me $500. Luckily if I buy a store bought computer I'll get an OEM version but I then have to wonder how much of the $500 was spent on the $300 OS.
Left by Jeremy Brayton on Aug 27, 2004 6:28 PM

# re: Will Longhorn Still Be Longhorn?
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You are ignoring the business side of it. Microsoft needs to release a new operating system every 5 years, as a source of revenue, period. Not to introduce new features, improve productivity, etc. Those are nice side effects that they strive for, but not the motivation (I am talking about Microsoft as a business - I'm sure the individual developers are motivated because they want to create cool new features). Your proposal of incremental service packs does not address the business need.
Left by Joshua Flanagan on Sep 01, 2004 1:54 PM

# re: Will Longhorn Still Be Longhorn?
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Joshua -

I'm not ignoring the business side of it. I have stated many times here that I know this solution isn't feasible in a capitalist society (which is unfortunate). From the business side of it, there is a very good reason that Microsoft makes as money as they do.

With my lack of business prowess, I can't see a different system that would make them as much money as they make now. One of the other options that comes to mind I know customers wouldn't potentially be happy with either and would be less profitable for Microsoft anyways. That is "The Sims" model. Why not charge $10 for a service pack? And release many service packs that are core improvements to the OS? Unfortunately, as much as I would propose that system, I know there are just too many potential flaws in its viability to overcome.

As much as I may sound like I'm bitching and moaning, I realize that Microsoft is doing exactly what they *should* be doing as a business in a capitalistic society. It's just the "hippy" part of me that wishes for something to be done for the good of society rather than teh good of the bottom line. I know it's not just possible, hence the reason I don't push all the time about it. After all, even if Microsoft did try it, I'm sure there would be another company that would be less altruistic that would step up and fill in their shoes at the drop of a hat.

Oh well, one can dream, can't he?
Left by Jason Olson on Sep 01, 2004 2:08 PM

# re: Will Longhorn Still Be Longhorn?
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It should be called
LongDrawn "out"
or LongYawn - we've seen that feature in that other OS - AppleX I think its called.
Left by Ned Kelly on Jun 22, 2005 7:13 AM

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