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WinInfo Short Takes: Week of May 2

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...


Why Longhorn is a Train Wreck

I've been asked by many people to explain my comments about Longhorn being a "train wreck." After three years of delays, I'd have thought that the rationale behind that statement was obvious, but allow me to inject a few thoughts here. First, I was pretty impressed (and dare I say it, excited) three years ago when it became clear that Longhorn would be a major "kitchen sink" release, the first the company had tried since, well, the failed Cairo project (Windows 95 was a major marketing release only as the 32-bit Win95 platform seeds were quietly laid in Windows for Workgroups 3.11). However, it's clear now that Microsoft is not so much a single enormous entity as it is 100's of large, autonomous entities. And getting these groups to work in concert is almost impossible. Longhorn, by early 2004, was teetering under the weight of all the features it was supposed to support, and nearing collapse. So Microsoft went back to scratch, rebuilt a componentized version of Windows Server 2003 with SP1 to serve as the Longhorn foundation, and then started adding back Longhorn features. And then, of course, Windows XP SP2 consumed a lot of the team's time as well. Now, in late April 2005, the company is still unsure, amazingly, which features will make it into the final Longhorn product. The list of features that absolutely will make it in is extremely small. The list of features that might make it in is now quite long. As time goes by, features from the latter list will be added to the former if all goes well. If all doesn't go well, then we're looking at what amounts to a Windows XP Feature Pack. Compared to the original vision for Longhorn, that's a train wreck. I've asked Microsoft to speak with me on the record about these issues, and they've agreed. If they come through on this, I'll have a much longer look at the Longhorn development problems soon. But there are the basics, laid bare. I wish it were a better story.


Why Longhorn is Going to Rock

On the flipside, it's important to understand that the public still hasn't seen a lot of the cool features that Microsoft will be including in Longhorn. These features will still make for a compelling release, though we may be wondering in late 2006 why it took over 5 years to deliver them. For example, the final Aero Glass user interface is far nicer than anything the company has shown off publicly yet, and will indeed be visually impressive. And there's a lot going on in the digital media space that I can't talk about yet. Beta 1 will have some of this stuff, but Beta 2 will be even more impressive. Alas, that release could drift into early 2006.


Microsoft Revenues Disappoint

This week, Microsoft reported quarterly earnings of $2.56 billion, over double the amount it earned in the same quarter a year earlier. Revenues were up just 5 percent, however, to $9.62 billion, causing some disappointment in circles where such figures would be disappointing. The problem: Charges related to Microsoft's legal expenses and stock-based compensation caused a hit to the bottom line. And Microsoft's cash cows--Windows and Office--saw sales rise only 3 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively. In the good news department, Microsoft's home and entertainment division, which sells the Xbox, saw revenues rise 12 percent. Meanwhile, mobile and embedded devices rose a whopping 31 percent, thanks to strong demand for Windows Mobile products.


But Wait, There's More

Speaking of Microsoft's quarterly earnings, the made an interesting admission during a conference call with reporters and analysts. According to the company, revenues from its Windows operating systems will not keep pace with the expected growth in PC sales this coming quarter. So even though PC sales will grow 10 to 12 percent, depending on who you talk to, Windows sales will only grow 8 to 9 percent. But hey, that's better than the previous quarter, when PC sales grew 10 percent, but Windows sales only grew 2 percent. I guess that "Start Something" marketing campaign for the four-year-old Windows XP suddenly makes sense: It's successor, codenamed Longhorn, will not be available until late 2006. It's going to be a long year and a half for the software giant.


Microsoft Settles Yet Another Lawsuit (LAW)

On Thursday, Microsoft announced that it has settled an antitrust lawsuit with the state of Nebraska, and will pay plaintiffs in the case $22.6 million in vouchers. As with most of Microsoft's other antitrust settlements, the biggest beneficiaries will be the poorest schools in the state. Meanwhile, we can expect about 6 people to actually cash in their vouchers. It's unclear why anyone thinks this is a good idea.


Gates Wants More Insourcing

Microsoft chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates is asking the United States government to let more foreign citizens work at US corporations. Gates says that current work visa limits are preventing skilled workers from coming to the US, and it's costing the US its lead in computer science and other industries. "This is almost a case of a centrally controlled economy," Gates said Thursday at the Library of Congress. "If the demand is there, why have the regulation at all?" Congress placed a cap on the issuance of work visas in the name of security and to protect jobs for US citizens. But the limits have reduced the number of workers coming into this country each year from 195,000 to 65,000 workers. "We're just not seeing an available labor pool," Gates added. Maybe that's why Longhorn is late, eh?


Apple Ships Its Longhorn on Schedule

At 6:00 pm tonight, Apple Stores around the country will begin selling Apple's next generation version of Mac OS X, codenamed Tiger. In case you were off visiting remote areas of Burma for the last year and a half, Tiger offers many of the features that Microsoft promises in Longhorn, but it delivers them today. Sadly, Tiger doesn't run on standard Intel hardware, but if the rumors we heard at WinHEC are true, it may soon: In addition to the Microsoft evangelist who told us that Apple was moving to Intel, we later heard that an Intel engineer was claiming that Intel-compatible versions of Tiger were now running in the company's Santa Clara labs. True or bogus, what the heck: Rumors like this are just fun.


A Look Back, a Look Ahead

If you've been following along with my WinHEC blogs on the WinInfo Daily UPDATE Web site, you already know this has been kind of a painful week for me, though on a more positive note, I ran into an amazing number of readers at the show, which is always humbling. And I've got a number of potentially interesting things planned for next week, including an in-depth look at Longhorn build 5048. Too, the screenshot fiasco may sort itself out. I'll let you know as soon as I hear from Microsoft. In the meantime, I'm in Phoenix for a few days to celebrate a good friend's 40th birthday, so I'm going to take the next few days off. I'll wake up again sometime around Sunday. Next Sunday.


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