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The Year in Operating Systems: No battle of big ideas

Small change for 2009

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Windows: virtually finished

One of the key launches this year was the Longhorn edition of Windows for servers, now known as Windows Server 2008. This shipped in February after delays over many years, not to mention having much of the guts that were supposed to be in Longhorn removed rather roughly by Microsoft's managers.

Windows Longhorn was first conceived in 2001 as a minor update of the Windows XP client operating system that would ship in 2002. Late in 2002, as the company was struggling to get Windows Server 2003 (then known as Windows .NET Server 2003) out the door, Microsoft decided it would develop a server version of Longhorn as well.

Longhorn was conceived as a stop-gap and minor kicker to Windows XP on the client side that was supposed to ship in 2002 and delays in getting Windows Server 2003 out the door in late 2002 compelled Microsoft to make Longhorn an interim server release to ship maybe in 2005.

By the summer of 2004, Longhorn got pushed to 2006 and to keep to that development schedule, Microsoft said it would have to gut its Windows File System (WinFS) from the operating system. As we now know, even cutting WinFS didn't help, and by 2005 Longhorn was pushed to 2007.

Next there were difficulties with the "Viridian" hypervisor Microsoft was creating for Windows, which we now know as Hyper-V and that pushed Longhorn from the end of 2007 to early 2008. And then Hyper-V didn't get released to manufacturing until July - and that was without key features, such as live migration of virtual machines in Hyper-V and Systems Center Virtual Machine Manager, the tool that, as the name suggests, manages virtual machines and their resource allocation.

Had Longhorn Server come out as conceived, with a sophisticated, embedded, and relational data storage file system as well as a virtualization hypervisor, it would be easy to argue that Windows Server 2008 was the most important server operating system launch this year.

It is ironic, though, that IBM's System/38 minicomputer - launched 30 years ago - had a native, embedded relational data store for all files and data, an approach that was further perfected in the 1988 launch of the AS/400.

IBM, being forward thinking, ripped this database out of the operating system and propped it up atop the OS/2 High Performance file system in a reworking of OS/400 in 1995, basically moving in the reverse direction of what Microsoft was attempting and making the AS/400 more complex to use but better able to deal with ASCII files than its EBCDIC data base could do.

Maybe next time Microsoft can set up a WinFS development lab in Minnesota and hire some ex-IBMers who actually know how to do this right?

And of course, Windows Vista Service Pack 1 came out at the same time as Longhorn and with a kernel that had been merged with the server variant, simplifying Microsoft's software development efforts but giving users some headaches because of bugs in SP1.

Vista itself was pretty annoying in that it really required more computing resources than Microsoft said it needed, and it was no surprise at all that plenty of users were willing to stay with Windows XP. Or maybe even go totally nuts and contemplate using Linux - particularly on a new machine, like a netbook. SP2 for Vista, which is in beta now, is probably not going to change how many people feel about Vista.

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