Microsoft has been largely silent about Longhorn, its next-generation Windows OS, since last fall, but last week, the company ratcheted up the volume. First, Microsoft announced that Longhorn will be named Windows Vista when it ships in late 2006. (Presumably, Longhorn Server won't be called Windows Vista Server but will instead be named something like Windows Server 2007.) Then, the company announced that Windows Vista Beta 1 will ship by August 3. (For more information, see my Windows Vista FAQ on the SuperSite for Windows at the URL below.)

Although Microsoft hopes that the Windows Vista name generates some excitement and even emotion with consumers, the new name is unlikely to do much to sway businesses. With that in mind, I asked the company whether it expected Windows Vista to be a bigger seller with individuals or corporations. Predictably--and carefully--Microsoft Group Product Manager Greg Sullivan told me that Windows Vista would be a compelling release for both groups. "We expect Windows Vista to be a significant release for all Windows customers--enterprises, small- and medium-sized businesses, and consumers--and we will have versions for each audience that are clearly differentiated," he said.

OK, sure. But without a beta 1 product to examine yet, I had to rely on Microsoft to give me a few feature-specific details that should endear businesses to Windows Vista: simple, image-based deployment, which I'll cover extensively after beta 1 arrives; the User Account Protection (UAP, formerly Least Privileged User Account--LUA) feature, which will finally give Windows the type of security foundation OS X, Linux, and UNIX have enjoyed for years; Secure Startup and full-volume encryption, which will keep travelers' data safe; and systemwide search and data organization features in the shell.

We'll see how these and other Windows Vista features pan out after beta 1 and beyond, but in the meantime, I think enterprises have some bigger concerns. For starters, how will the software-licensing end game play out? And how can something as disruptive as deploying a major new Windows release provide enough benefit to justify the time, expense, and effort? Microsoft has anticipated these questions, and, thanks to my recent acquisition of some internal Microsoft documentation, I can tell you how the company expects to answer your concerns, sans the usual marketing baloney.

First, let's address some obvious Software Assurance (SA) and Enterprise Agreement concerns. Microsoft expects to complete Windows Vista development in mid to late 2006 and ship the OS to customers in late 2006. If your SA or Enterprise Agreement contract runs through this time frame, you'll receive Windows Vista as part of your agreement. However, one major Windows Vista component, the WinFS data storage engine, won't ship until 2007, alongside Longhorn Server. Only those customers with active SA or Enterprise Agreement licenses at the time of WinFS' release will get WinFS. "Customers will get any and all product updates that are shipped during the life of their agreement," Microsoft's documentation reads. "If WinFS ships outside of the term of your agreement, you will not be licensed for it."

Given the glacial development time of Windows Vista, many customers have questioned the value of the SA or Enterprise Agreement volume-licensing programs because so few updates were released during the time period of the initial agreements. However, Microsoft points to Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) as a major security upgrade and notes that the most significant benefit to these programs, perhaps, is that they let enterprises budget for software purchases over time. Although this sounds somewhat self-serving on the surface, it's worth noting that most midsized and large businesses don't upgrade desktop OSs every 2 years anyway. And, internally, Microsoft expects the predictability of the Windows Vista release to trigger a new round of SA and Enterprise Agreement sign-ups.

And then there's Longhorn Server. As with Windows Vista, Longhorn Server won't include WinFS. The product will be based on the Windows Server 2003 Release 2 (R2) code base and will include Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) 7.0, a next-generation Web services application platform, and various other products, including a Microsoft Small Business Server (SBS) version. However, I'm told that Longhorn Server will be even more malleable than Windows 2003. In addition to a wider expected range of product editions, Longhorn Server will be more componentized and will thus offer a smaller footprint on task-specific servers.

From a pure value perspective, Windows Vista and Longhorn Server will deliver key benefits in several areas, and I'll examine those soon. But in the meantime, fire away with any Windows Vista or Longhorn Server questions. Suddenly, the clock is ticking, and I'm curious to see whether these products are even on your radar yet.

Windows Vista FAQ
http://www.winsupersite.com/article/faq/windows-vista-faq.aspx

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