A Longhorn Delay? Not Quite

   News about a potential delay for Windows Longhorn, the next major update to Windows XP, has quickly evolved from pointless analyst predictions to so-called fact, and several major tech news outlets have reported Microsoft's supposed setbacks. But Microsoft has never announced a precise Longhorn release date, opting instead to refer to indistinct dates that are a few years away because of the complexity of what the company hopes to achieve with the Longhorn release. But that fact doesn't stop half the tech industry from reporting delays, and if the next 2 years follow this trend, those 2 years are going to feel like an eternity.
   The delay stories arose from comments various Microsoft executives made during recent interviews. But none of those executives described a delay. In fact, Redmond's tune hasn't changed; each executive has highlighted the fact that Longhorn is a major release wave that will encompass several products and numerous technologies and that the company will release such a complex product only when it's ready. "We do not yet know the timeframe for Longhorn, but it will involve a lot of innovative and exciting work," Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates said recently.
   When asked about Longhorn during a "Computerworld" interview last week, Microsoft Group Vice President Jim Allchin was similarly vague. "It's all a question of probabilities," he said. "\[2005 is\] our target. But there's a probability it may make it, it may not ... The truth is, these are targets ... We'll know so much more when we hit Beta 1. And we're not going to be at Beta 1 at the PDC \[Professional Developers Conference in late October\]. Once we hit Beta 1, we'll be able to get customer feedback. You can't predict when a product is going to ship until you get some customer feedback."
   In the absence of any real news, and with a 2-year window in which to manufacture spin, many tech outlets have taken the initiative in an effort to supply eager readers with Longhorn information. A tech industry analyst recently predicted that Longhorn's release will slip to 2006, a prediction that's so obvious, given the 2005 target date and Microsoft's historic inability to meet time tables for major products, that it shouldn't have even merited discussion. But in the rumor-happy tech industry, that prediction was widely reported and is suddenly a solid piece of evidence that Microsoft is stumbling. This situation is a sad state of affairs.
   Allchin's take on the release-date frenzy is, perhaps, the most definitive. "The press made an issue out of \[the release date\] for Windows 2000, made an issue out of the date versus an issue out of quality," he said. "Every \[press\] meeting was about, 'What's the date, and how far are you behind?' And my response is, I don't care. I only care about the quality. This was a monster release beyond anything we had tried to do. You should be asking me about \[the quality\]. Forget the date. So that's still my mindset as the engineer here ... No one should be locking on to this right now. Let's see how the developers like it. Let's see how Beta 1 goes. I don't know the date. Is it early \[2005\]? Is it late \[2005\]? Do I have an issue \[if it's 2006\]? I don't know ... We'll do right by our customers."

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