Microsoft Watch's Mary Jo Foley has reported that WinFS -- the Longhorn file system that Bill Gates has referred to as the Holy Grail -- is back. Backported that is, to Windows XP. Along with Indigo and Avalon, two other pillars of Longhorn that are being backported to older versions of Windows, Foley reports "Nearly all of the 'original' Longhorn technologies are going to be made available for Windows XP." That XP will take on more and more of the features originally slated for Longhorn raises some obvious questions, the most important of which is whether or not Longhorn -- slated for delivery some time in 2006 -- will be compelling enough to make users want to upgrade. It also makes me wonder whether Longhorn will get pushed back (something that Intel wouldn't appreciate since that company's rollout of its LeGrande security technology will depend on Longhorn).
Upgrades have increasingly become an uphill battle for software companies as it becomes harder to find feature improvements that address more than a sliver of the market's needs. Microsoft need look no further than Windows XP to feel this pain. More than half of all Windows desktops in use today are still running pre-XP versions even though XP-only updates such as Service Pack 2 contain certain must-have features (particularly for security). Microsoft has felt the pinch on the other side of upgrades too. Whereas the company has released new versions of its flagship OS and encountered resistance to upgrades, it decided not to upgrade its browser Internet Explorer. But now, given the hit that Firefox has been, the company appears to have reconsidered that course of action.