News about a potential delay in Windows Longhorn, the next major update to Windows XP, has quickly evolved from mindless analysts predictions to so-called fact, with several major tech news outlets reporting on Microsoft's supposed setbacks. But Microsoft has never really announced a Longhorn release date, opting instead to refer to dates that are usually a few years out, owing to the complexity of what the company hopes to achieve with the Longhorn release. But that doesn't stop half the tech industry from reporting on a delay, and if this is how the next two years are going to go, it's going to feel like an eternity. The delay stories arose from comments various Microsoft executives made recently in interviews. But none of them have described a delay. In fact, the tune from Redmond hasn't really changed, with each executive highlighting the fact that Longhorn is a major release wave encompassing several products and numerous technologies, and that such a complex product will be released only when it's ready. "We do not yet know the time frame for Longhorn, but it will involve a lot of innovative and exciting work," Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said recently.
When asked about Longhorn in a Computerworld interview last week, Microsoft group vice president Jim Allchin was similarly vague. "It's all a question of probabilities," he said. "[2005 is] our target. But there's a probability it may make it, it may not ... The truth is, these are targets ... We'll know so much more when we hit Beta 1. And we're not going to be at Beta 1 at the PDC [Professional Developers Conference in late October]. Once we hit Beta 1 we'll be able to get customer feedback. You can't predict when a product is going to ship until you get some customer feedback."
In the absence of any real news, and with a two year window in which to manufacture spin, many tech outlets have taken the initiative in an effort to supply eager readers with more Longhorn information. A tech industry analyst recently predicted that Longhorn would slip until 2006, a prediction that's so obvious given the 2005 target date and Microsoft's historical inability to meet time tables for major products, that it shouldn't have even merited discussion. But in the rumor-happy tech industry, that prediction was widely reported and is suddenly a solid piece of evidence that Microsoft is stumbling. It's a sad state of affairs.
Allchin's take on the release date frenzy is, perhaps, the most definitive. "The press made an issue out of [the release date] for Windows 2000, made an issue out of the date versus an issue out of quality," he said. "Every [press] meeting was about, 'What's the date, and how far are you behind?' And my response is, I don't care. I only care about the quality. This was a monster release beyond anything we had tried to do. You should be asking me about [the quality]. Forget the date. So that's still my mind-set as the engineer here ... No one should be locking onto this right now. Let's see how the developers like it. Let's see how Beta 1 goes. I don't know the date. Is it early '05? Is it late '05? Do I have an issue where it's '06? I don't know ... We'll do right by our customers."