Users Enjoying Breather Between Windows XP and Longhorn

It’s never taken Microsoft longer than three years (give or take a few months) to deliver a new version of its business-class operating system. And when Redmond ships its Longhorn operating environment sometime in 2006, more or less than three years will have elapsed since the software giant delivered Windows Server 2003.

When Longhorn finally does appear, however, there could be as much as a five year span between it and Windows XP Professional, Microsoft’s last business-class operating client. And that’s unprecedented in Microsoft’s history.

When Microsoft announced delay after delay during the build-up to its Windows NT 4.0 release, many IT administrators were steamed. After all, some IT departments had bought into Windows NT 4.0 – which appeared little more than a year after Windows NT 3.51 – on the premise that it would be a stepping stone to Microsoft’s Windows NT 5.0 release. Then there were the IT organizations that bought into Windows NT in the first place on the basis of Microsoft’s “Cairo” operating system, which never appeared.

So how have users reacted to Microsoft’s move? With equanimity, for the most part. “The marketplace, for all its clamoring about features and value, is highly resistant to implementing software with major changes, often citing end-user retraining and third-party software changes,” says Andrew Baker, director of network services with a prominent global media conglomerate. “If you give them exactly what they say they want, they still won't implement it until six months after the first service pack.”

Paul Green, a Windows administrator with a non-profit agency, says that he’s quite happy with Windows XP.

“I currently don't have any plans in place to upgrade to Longhorn. Most everyone in the organization is running Windows XP -- SP1 or SP2 -- at the moment, and their needs are being met,” he says, adding: “If I were forced to use Windows 2000 on all current desktops, I would still be in good shape. So there really isn't any urgency for at least this organization to be upgraded.”

That’s a perspective shared by Mark Rockman, a programmer and administrator with AlphaGenics Inc., a bio-sciences company based in Maryland. “Microsoft’s release plans do not affect me at all. Longhorn, Avalon and Indigo are evolutionary changes to already-existing technologies,” he says. “I don’t care how often Microsoft releases software. I am very interested in deploying security-related enhancements to my network as soon as they become available….There is never a guarantee that a different release won’t cause some applications some problems."

Many users say a period of several years between major platform releases is a good thing. Almost all point to Windows XP Professional itself, which shipped slightly more than 20 months after Windows 2000 Professional, as a poorly timed major platform release.

“Less than two years is a big deal from a company perspective, as this is a major undertaking for the IT staff to complete within the corporate walls,” says David Goebel, a software developer with a California state government agency. “For the home user, it's not that big of a deal I don't think.” Goebel suggests that Microsoft should think about making new updates available more frequently for home users, and then “”roll out a much larger release every three to five years. I do not think that three to five years is too long for major platform rollouts.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.