Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates confirmed this week what industry onlookers have long suspected: The company won't ship its next-generation Windows version (code-named Longhorn) until at least 2006. But Gates said that this new date doesn't represent a delay, per se, because Longhorn has never been a date-driven release.
  
"People are speculating that we're out in 2006 sometime \[with Longhorn\], and that's probably a valid speculation," Gates said during a talk at Gartner Spring Symposium 2004 in San Diego. "People are amazed how far along we are. When we had the developers conference \[in October 2003\], a few people said, 'Hey, that looks good. Why don't you ship it tomorrow?' Well, in terms of getting all the pieces together so that \[Longhorn will be\] a clear IT breakthrough, a clear developer breakthrough, and a clear end-user breakthrough, we're doing quite a bit more. We say the train is leaving \[in 2006\]; \[people who have\] their acts totally together by that date \[will leave on\] the train. The train could have a lot of people on it, or it could be fairly empty. The Longhorn release \[will include\] some fundamental breakthroughs in terms of how trivial it is to click and install a rich application, how trivial it is that there's no state on the machine, that if the machine breaks down you can plug in a new PC and be up and running. A lot of things that have to do with IT complexity--fundamental breakthroughs--are must-haves for Longhorn."
  
Regarding the Longhorn release schedule, Gates said that Microsoft will ship an alpha build of the new OS this year; that release is expected in May at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) 2004 trade show in Seattle. "We'll have \[an\] alpha release out this year that everybody can look at; after that we'll give a precise date \[for the final version of Longhorn\]." Gates neglected to say that Microsoft is also scheduled to ship Longhorn Beta 1 in late summer, although whether the company is still on track for that release is unclear.
  
When asked whether Microsoft will ship an interim version of Windows XP before releasing Longhorn, Gates joked that XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) will be the interim release. (Although the company is considering shipping an interim XP version code-named XP Reloaded, Gates didn't discuss that release.) "There's a release called SP2," he said. "That's a great name--Windows XP SP2. And this summer, that release \[will be\] all about security. It's a breakthrough in terms of how it turns on the firewall automatically, blocks certain types of Internet downloads, and files things. It's not about new features or new APIs or new UIs...it's purely security focused. So we'll have a strong message that says that if you're buying new systems or looking at updating, SP2 is the best client version to use. The really big breakthrough release...is the Longhorn release."