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Confess about XP Reloaded quick, Gartner tells MS

Windows - a journey without roadmaps...

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Microsoft should level with us, soon, on whether or not it intends to ship an interim 'XP Reloaded' version of Windows, and if it is getting the green light, it should discuss the timeline and feature sets immediately, says Garter. The research outfit's recently-issued 'First Take' is actually directed at giving upgrade advice for customers still using Windows 2000, and confused by the Reloaded story, but it contains quite a few grisly reminders about the things Microsoft ought to do, but doesn't.

For example, Microsoft was saying in 2001 that it intended to release Longhorn in the second half of 2004. As we've seen since then, the Longhorn date has slipped spectacularly, and Gartner's view that we're not going to see it before 2007 seems all too plausible. At the same time, Microsoft intends to stop selling Windows 2000 through the channel at the end of this month.

If you ask Microsoft when Longhorn is going to ship, Microsoft will tell you it will ship when it's done. And if you listen to Microsoft executives' presentations over a year or two, you'll note that the 12-18 month window in which the company thinks Longhorn might ship moves progressively. So, we have a period of indeterminate length from the demise of Win2k until the arrival of Longhorn, into which - the company indicated in just the last few days - something which might be a retreaded version of XP, might be a marketing campaign or might be a mix of the two is likely to be slipped.

You can see how this kind of thing causes a certain amount of angst among Microsoft's treasured corporate customers. Many of them are still using Windows 2000, for perfectly rational reasons. XP wasn't a massive leap over Win2k, but has sufficient differences to add support costs, so why shift? And if Longhorn were still on target for H2 2004 (not of course that anybody sensible ever believed that one) they'd now be sitting fairly pretty.

Not only does Microsoft seldom issue accurate roadmaps - the company has a history of producing new versions more or less out of the blue, and then finding itself moving the expiry dates around on the lifecycle charts a couple of years later. Quite often this happens just days before a product's previously scheduled expiry, which is really not a whole bunch of help to anyone.

The pity here is that it's almost certainly not the case that Microsoft secretly knows when it's going to ship things and when it's going to kill them. On the contrary, the company is probably telling us more or less what it knows, when it knows it, and if Reloaded really turns out to be a product rather than a marketing programme, then it's probably one that's just popped into somebody in Redmond's head. Or that some maniac in Redmond has just finally managed to sell to the High Command.

So prior to making Gartner and the enterprise customers happy by producing regular and accurate roadmaps, timelines and feature sets, Microsoft really has to consider carefully and deeply why it is that it is unable to do this. And maybe why inserting timeline changes as puffs of white smoke in keynotes is really not a smart idea. ®

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