With Microsoft's most compelling OS release since Windows 95 in the can, the company is heading down a familiar path--laying plans for the future of Windows, including the upcoming Windows XP Service Pack 1 (SP1) release. According to the company, XP SP1 testing will precede a beta for Longhorn, the next client Windows release that Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates says is due in 2003; a future major release, code-named Blackcomb, is due in 2005. Concurrently, Microsoft moved many of the enterprise-oriented XP beta testers over to the Windows .NET Server beta; this product will hit Beta 3 soon and ship by mid-2002.

However, in a note to testers the day before the XP launch, Windows Program Manager Doug Anderson communicated some confusing and disappointing news, at one point even contradicting public statements from his superiors, including Gates and Group Vice President Jim Allchin. Anderson referred to the Longhorn release as "Longhorn, Blackcomb, or whatever code name-of-the-week on Web news sites. Who knows what future versions of Windows will be called during development?" Microsoft has already publicly corroborated the name Longhorn, so why Anderson would contradict Allchin's and Gates' public statements in such a forum is unclear, especially when the obvious point of such a comment was to cast doubt on the integrity of the news agencies that subsequently reported the code name. We don't make this stuff up, and I, for one, don't appreciate the inference.

Within days of that posting, Allchin reiterated that Longhorn is the code name for the next version of Windows. "We anticipate a beta next year...with the final product shipping some time in 2003," Allchin said. "Longhorn will \[include\] improvements that we've \[heard about\] from customers using Windows XP and much will depend on the feedback received from the upcoming third beta for the Windows .NET Server family." Allchin also noted that Longhorn will feature a managed interface based on the usability aspects of XP and the .NET-class frameworks Microsoft is developing for Visual Studio .NET. Meanwhile, just before the XP launch, Gates noted that Longhorn will be an interim release--a relatively minor upgrade. Blackcomb--pushed back 2 years when Longhorn entered the picture--promises to be a major release.

Anderson also told testers that their eagerly awaited boxed copies of XP will be delayed significantly past the expected October shipments. Testers who asked for XP Professional Edition are now looking at a late November or early December mailing, and Microsoft won't fulfill XP Home Edition requests until late February 2002. "The shipments to qualified beta sites have been delayed due to the high demand of Windows XP in the retail sector," Anderson noted as he turned out the lights on the testers. Microsoft closed the beta newsgroups less than 2 days later--quite suddenly, probably to avoid a long series of vocal complaints.

Anderson did note, however, that Longhorn testing will begin after the next stage of .NET Server and XP SP1 testing and that participation in the beta initially will be based on those two tests; Allchin verified those statements during the XP launch events in New York. When asked about Longhorn at a press question-and-answer session before his keynote Thursday, Gates also said that Microsoft will base the next client release largely on the crucial XP feedback that the company receives in the coming days. He also made an unexpected announcement-- that the company will release a corresponding server upgrade.