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Gates confirms Windows Longhorn for 2003, Blackcomb MIA?

And the .NET tools situation maybe isn't all it might be...

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Down at the bottom of Bill Gates' keynote to the Professional Developers Conference yesterday lies confirmation that the wheels have come off the Windows rollout wagon. Again. Actually, we all already knew that the Big One, Blackcomb, has been knocked back in the general direction of 2005, and we already knew that the interim XP+1, Longhorn, was 2003, but Bill saying it - or something pretty close to it, anyway - is confirmation that it's going quiet for a while, and there will be no interim release next year.

Probably. Practically all of the Blackcomb delayed stories track back to Gartner saying so, and Gartner, like The Register, finds it difficult to believe that Microsoft will be able to resist another revenue-enhancing hit at the consumer market next year. Bill however (who told us Blackcomb would be 2002 at the same venue last year) now says: "2003 is the next major milestone for us in terms of the Windows release. That will be a very important release, a lot going on in the peer-to-peer, a lot going on in the advanced presentation environment there. We'll have a round of servers that are timed with that, and of course we'll be able to go with the major new version of the tools that match up with that and a major new version of the services."

If you disentangle that, you can see what an incredibly mobile mess the Microsoft OS development schedule is, even without getting into the ancient history of the genesis of XP. Microsoft allegedly alternates major and minor OS releases, but there's precious little evidence that this happens in real life. There were several minor, very minor, releases between NT 4.0 (not entirely major in itself) and Win2k, and despite marketing hype to the contrary, XP is a minor release. Longhorn counts as a minor release too, despite being a "major milestone" according to Bill.

It will, reading between Bill's lines above, have beefed-up media playing capabilities, and no doubt whatever new .NETish features are available at the time. The timing of the "round of servers" and the "major new version of the tools" ought, we think, to give .NET developers a sinking feeling. It sounds suspiciously like Bill's telling them they're not going to get the real meat of .NET for another 18 months or so.

Even then, the Blackcomb rev will be another two years off at least. Blackcomb is intended to have built-in database technology, and to be the real .NET OS, so the reality of .NET is clearly a good way off yet. And isn't it interesting that the 'nearly' stage in 2003 syncs nicely with what InterTrust was telling us about the real impact point of .NET the other day?

That doesn't mean Microsoft won't be busy in the run-up. One of the things it announced yesterday was the prices for .NET My Services, except that it didn't, really. These are intended to be any time, anywhere web services that users can access, and they're intended to be both Microsoft and third party services. But Microsoft hasn't yet decided which of these services will be free, which charged for, and what the charges will be. It does however say that it expects most of the revenue from My Services to derive from user subs, which you'll note yet again blurs the distinction between Microsoft's status as custodian of the platform and provider of the services.

The prices that were announced were for developers and partners, and these are clearly pitched in order to get developer mindshare early, and get momentum going behind .NET. For the small outfit it'll cost $1,000 a year, plus $250 per app certified. The fees for mid-range, i.e. most of them, will be $10,000 and $1,500 respectively, while the fees for the top level commercial (mission critical or high volume) haven't been announced/determined. The Microsoft deal with Verizon however apparently falls into this last category, so we'd guess the cost will be based on whatever it takes for Microsoft to cut a big, prestige deal. Which actually could be very little, depending on how badly Redmond wants it. ®

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