Here's a comforting thought if you're mired in the hell of constant Windows upgrades: Microsoft will likely significantly delay the next two OS generations (Windows .NET Server—formerly code-named "Whistler"—and Windows "Longhorn"). The company plans to delay the releases, in part because of its recently announced, highly publicized security code review. Microsoft's sudden focus on "Trustworthy Computing" has halted all new coding for 1 month so that the company's programmers can review code to look for security and privacy vulnerabilities. The code review has also forced the company to reevaluate schedules and push back release dates. I doubt .NET Server will ship until late 2002 or even early 2003. Did I just hear a collective sigh of relief?

Windows upgrades are sometimes a necessary evil and, if you sign on to Microsoft's License 6.0 scheme, upgrades might soon become a regularly scheduled event (excuse me, subscription service). .NET Server is such a minor upgrade that you'll be able to implement and integrate it into Win2K environments more easily than you could integrate previous OS versions. But after the challenging upgrade to Windows 2000 and, for some enterprises, Active Directory (AD), most of us could use a break. The delay of .NET Server might give administrators a 2-year pause between server releases, which is still too short in my opinion.

Windows Longhorn, the client and server OS that will follow .NET Server, is even more interesting than its predecessors. Although most Longhorn server-specific features remain a mystery, many of the release's client features are important to the enterprise. Chief among these features is a new SQL Server-based file system called the Universal Data Store (formerly code-named Storage+). The store will obscure the physical location of files and folders and present a simpler, more logical way to store user data. According to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, you shouldn't think of the store as a file system anymore: It's just a data bucket.

Longhorn users will be able to use XML-based SQL queries to search for data. And they'll be able to send search requests remotely, giving this technology many benefits beyond the desktop. Microsoft is working to consolidate its data stores using the next generation of SQL Server, code-named Yukon. Longhorn and the next generation of Microsoft Exchange Server and AD will be based on the Yukon data store, so administrators and users will be able to query these disparate data sources at the same time. Currently, the Windows file system, AD store, Exchange Server mailboxes, and SQL Server databases are separate data buckets: Although custom solutions exist for aggregating searches of these stores, this functionality will soon be a feature of the OS.

However, the inclusion of Yukon technology in Longhorn will delay the OS's release until late 2003 or early 2004; it was originally expected in late 2002 or early 2003. I doubt that this delay will cause much grumbling among most Microsoft customers, although the company might have to release an interim Windows XP Home upgrade to appease consumers who expect a new Windows version each year. For the rest of us, however, a new Windows version isn't always welcome, so enjoy the much-needed break between upgrades. I know I will.