So you want to understand what the changes to Longhorn mean?

Summary: The reaction to the news on Longhorn seems mainly positive


There is an enormous amount of debate on Microsoft’s decision to change the content and timing of Longhorn.  I discussed it in brief yesterday.  Since then there has been some very well informed discussions and links to these can be found on Robert Scobles blog.  However Robert just provides a very long list with little opinion so here is my take. In a bit more detail.


By far the best place to start in understanding this debate is this interview with Bill Gates by CNet.  It’s a fascinating piece with lots of snippets, a few of which I quote below:


We realized that we could do a lot of rich search capabilities in the OS without the full database, taking some of our text technology that’s been used by Office, and actually, MSN is doing some nearer-term local-search things, building on that same technology.  So that’s why MS bought LookOut!


Then we have other groups, like WinFS, where we’re way out in front, and there’s nobody to compare ourselves to. Making sure that they see how we’re committed to the vision and how we’re going to support it and the way we use it with our other products–that’s important. I think we’re doing a pretty good job of that. I’m talking with the WinFS group next week, and I’ll hear what their questions are and make sure that there isn’t any doubt about our excitement and commitment.  Lots of people compare other activities to WinFS, but when you look deep enough you see that MS really is the only company with the WinFS vision.  That’s not to say it won’t take long to clone it to Linux, we will have to wait and see.


Then this summary by Microsoft Monitor which always provides excellent analysis.


Next up I would read this article by Jeremy Mazner, a Longhorn Technical Evangelist.  Where he gives some internal background to the decision.  I liked this snippet best:


The WinFS team spent a solid couple weeks going through this evaluation, (how to shorten the development time).  There are of course plenty of things you could do to increase the confidence level on a project the size of WinFS, since it has so many features, including:


·        Built-in schemas for calendar, contacts, documents, media, etc

·        Etensibility for adding custom schema or business logic

·        File system integration, like promotion/demotion and valid win32 file paths

·        A synchronization runtime for keeping content up to date

·        Rich API support for app scenarios like grouping and filtering

·        A self-tuning management service to keep the system running well

·        Tools for deploying schema, data and applications


If you cut one of these, or reduced its functionality, you could probably shorten the schedule.  But I think the team concluded that the real sweet spot of WinFS is all these features delivered together, in an integrated package.  The feedback I’ve heard from ISVs, certainly, is that if you take any one of these things away, you significantly diminish the value of WinFS overall.  So another example of MS taking the do it right or not at all approach, which is contrary to my post on this topic.


Jeremy Mazner, then make a really interesting point:


So what happened to WinFS?  Nothing.  Others Windows teams concluded they could make some changes in order to deliver more quickly, and so they are accelerating and aiming to deliver to WinFX functionality on XP and Server 2003.  The WinFS team concluded that neither of these was viable, so their plans are unchanged.


And comment that appealed to me personally:


The API went through one of Steven Clarke’s usability studies, and the API team has really listened to that feedback and come up with some new API patterns and a revised data model.  I have seen the proposed changes and they are a huge improvement.


When I was at the PDC last year I was really impressed by these ‘API police’ who review everyone else API’s and critique them for simplicity, consistency etc.  In quite a few of the PDC examples there were 10-20 lines of code calling many API’s, the speakers often said, the “API police” are on our case and this is likely to be 1-2 lines by the time we ship!  


Next I think it’s important to start thinking about what this means to Operating Systems in general.  We have already seen major parts of Windows 2003 server delivered as ‘feature packs’, SP2 is a major feature pack for XP.  This announcement means XP and Windows 2003 are going to get a Avalon and an Indigo feature back, and then Longhorn is going to get a WinFS feature pack.  You start to get the idea – the days of major Operating system releases may be drawing to an end.  And Paul agrees with me:


As I wrote over three years ago in my assessment of the development of Windows 2000, Microsoft works better when it tackles projects in small steps. “If there’s a lesson to be learned here, and I believe there is, it’s that the development of monolithic operating systems is over,” I wrote. “While Windows 2000 is a great product, its development time and complexity is just too much to ask of customers. In the future, Microsoft will need to work off of a stable base, adding features on a yearly basis. For example, Microsoft should have developed Active Directory and IntelliMirror separately, releasing these products when they were ready. Asking customers to wrap their minds around all of the new features and changes in Windows 2000 is simply too much to ask.” Now replace “Windows 2000” with “Longhorn” and “Active Directory and IntelliMirror” with “Avalon and Indigo,” and you’ll see what I mean. Longhorn was just too big.


David from eWeekstresses the long term nature of a Migration to Longhorn in “all its glory”, and by that I mean full exploitation by client and server applications of its capabilities.  I have heard MS employees talk about it being a decade before the Longhorn vision is realised:


Admitting to a personal foible, Microsoft’s decision gives me a chance to enjoy just one “I told you so.” I may have said privately but never publicly that Microsoft should or would make huge changes to get Longhorn out the door. What I have put on record is that Longhorn adoption would be a prolonged affair, perhaps taking until the end of the decade before its “universally” adopted.


In the past, I based this calculation on how long it took Windows NT to go mainstream, which was the better part of a decade. Now, it looks like Longhorn may dribble out for many more years before becoming “complete.” (Again, whatever that means).


Nearly at the end now  this observation in the Marketing need to ship in 2006 is interesting:


From the marketing point of view, I think they made the right choice. They’ll sell more Longhorns because of Avalon than because of WinFS, so if they need to drop one, WinFS was the logical choice. That’s because Avalon is a luxury item and people wants to have luxury items ;). On the other hand, there won’t be another operating system with a file system like WinFS in 2006, but there are already operating systems that look better than Windows and that are increasing their market share because of that.


and a developer speaks


I’m extremely excited about this… the platform that I live, breath, and… well… y’know… eat, I guess… every day (WinFX, that is) will experience an elevated and accelerated adoption as a result. It’d be awesome if there was a simple switch we could throw that immediately gives everyone LH, but this obviously isn’t reality. As a result, shipping on XP and WS03 means that we’ll reach a broader audience in a shorter amount of time. ISVs and IT shops can get cooking with gas without requiring that 100% of their users be on the “latest and greatest” OS. Goodness if you ask me.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

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