At the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2003 late last week in New Orleans, various Microsoft executives and representatives discussed the company's long- and short-term plans, focusing primarily on security. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer didn't mention Longhorn once during his keynote address, preferring to discuss more pertinent topics such as security, partnering, customers, and why the company doesn't promote specific features of its products but rather concentrates on a whole that's greater than its parts.
"I really want to spend a lot of my time on the number-one issue that I'm hearing from our joint customers, because if we understand ... both the \[security\] threat and the opportunity that it represents, I think it's going to help ... all of us perform better in our own businesses and in service of our customers," Ballmer said. "You've told us that the quality of the patching process is low and inconsistent. You've told us that you need to know--and our customers need to know--what is the right way from a security standpoint to run an enterprise with Microsoft software in it. You've told us that you can't keep up with new patches; they come too quickly. You've told us there are still too many vulnerabilities in our products. We're working very hard, and I'm going to announce some concrete actions we're taking on all four of these items ... because this is not an issue for Microsoft alone; it's not an issue for Microsoft and our ISV partners alone; it's not an issue for Microsoft and ISVs and you alone; it's really an issue that ... we need to attack together as an industry with our customers."
Although Microsoft's partners wanted to hear about security more than they wanted to hear about Longhorn, a couple of executives did mention Longhorn in passing. Microsoft will wait until the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) 2003 in late October to unload Longhorn information, but given the excitement about the upcoming version, I'd be remiss not to mention the limited information that Microsoft did present. Microsoft executives reiterated that the Longhorn wave of products will begin in late 2005 with the release of Windows Longhorn and will encompass a slew of technologies that will include new versions of Microsoft Office, Visual Studio .NET, and--1 year to 18 months later--Windows Server. The Longhorn wave will follow what Microsoft calls the Yukon wave, during which the company will release Microsoft SQL Server 2004 (code-named Yukon) and Visual Studio .NET 2004 (code-named Whidbey).
As usual, Microsoft officials didn't discuss specific dates, although casual mentions of the Longhorn wave coming "3 years out" caused rumors sites to explode with news items about yet another delay. A more likely scenario is that Microsoft will release the Longhorn products over time, culminating with the release of a new Windows Server version 18 months after the release of Windows Longhorn, a desktop product that will ship in home, professional, Media Center, and Tablet PC editions. Microsoft is trying to subtly communicate that Longhorn isn't just one product but rather a completely new architecture on which the company will build a suite of products. As the Longhorn wave crests in 2006 to 2007, Microsoft says, we can expect to see new versions of Microsoft Exchange (code-named Kodiak), SQL Server (code-named Acadia), and the first release of Microsoft System Center, which integrates Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) and Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM).
But that craziness all begins at PDC 2003 in a few weeks (and presumably will never end). For now, Microsoft's message is clear: We feel your security pain, and we're working to fix it. Whether the company can regain the trust of its customers and partners, however, is a topic for another day.