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Avalon faces axe as Microsoft dismembers Longhorn

WinFS, new GUI face 'decoupling'

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The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Exclusive Cattle mutilation appears to be a phenomenon more common on the MidWest prairies than the Pacific coast, but one steer in particular faces a very nervous weekend: Microsoft's Longhorn.

Microsoft project managers have demanded that features be jettisoned in order for the next major version of Windows to ship as projected by 2006, and the major loser is the new GUI, codenamed Avalon, according to multiple sources who spoke to The Register on condition of anonymity. Features are being "decoupled", according to current Redmond jargon, meaning they may be introduced at a later date. Or not.

Avalon features a new compositing engine and a new, vastly simplified API that makes coding Windows forms much like writing a web page. The two year project has been the victim of high staff turnover already say sources, but had previously been thought to be sacrosanct. In two years' time much higher pixel densities will make Windows XP's hardwired fonts hard to read, and a modern GUI was considered a necessity. (In anticipation of higher density LCDs, Nokia recently introduced a "double" sized version of its Series 60 user interface). Avalon had won praise for its elegant API and speed at PDC earlier this year. How much of the work, if any, will ship in Longhorn will be decided in the next few days.

Another feature likely to be "decoupled" is WinFS, or Windows Future Storage. However Indigo, Microsoft's middleware infrastructure, is not considered a candidate for mutilation. Microsoft has promised to backport it to Windows XP. Reports earlier this year that WinFS would lose network functionality were strongly denied by Microsoft staff, who pointed out that the company had only ever slated these features in post-Longhorn releases, towards the end of the decade.

Bill Gates described Longhorn as Microsoft's largest ever engineering project, but it has been bedeviled by slippages. Two years ago, Gates said that Longhorn was "the equivalent of many moon shots". How much of this expense is absorbed by the "strategic" deployment of 1,400 webloggers isn't clear - nor is it clear how much they contribute to the slippages. (And they certainly don't tell you anything useful, like what won't appear, preferring to make up fictional 'features', instead). But slip it has: in October 2001 Chairman Bill vowed that Longhorn would hit the CD pressing plants in 2003.

Last year some members of the Longhorn team threw a "Gold Release" party three years early, prompting witty readers to make suggestions for what the acronym 'RTM' really means. But now that looks like a good bet - it might be the only opportunity some staff ever get to celebrate releasing any Longhorn code. ®

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