Rewriting Vista history

Rewriting Vista history

Summary: What would have happened, on that fateful day of August 27, 2004, if Microsoft officials had said: "You know what? We messed up with Longhorn. And we're starting over."

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TOPICS: Windows
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What would have happened, on that fateful day of August 27, 2004, if Microsoft officials had said: "You know what? We messed up with Longhorn. And we're starting over."

Instead, as Microsoft historians know, Microsoft decided to cast its decision to gut the next version of Windows client as a "reset."

"We didn't do much -- just took out WinFS, the Windows File System. Oh yeah -- and back-port some of the stuff that was supposed to be exclusive to Longhorn to Windows XP. Other than that, it's full-steam ahead."

As Microsoft enthusiast Robert McLaws on Windows-Now.com notes, the Longhorn reset was really more of a do-over.

The Longhorn we first heard about as early as 2002 is not the Vista that Microsoft will launch next week on January 29. Fewer of the application-programming interfaces at its core are "managed," as opposed to "native," than Microsoft originally had hoped/expected. The integrated search is less capable and game-changing than the one Microsoft initially touted. In short, the product formerly code-named Longhorn is more evolutionary than revolutionary.

Like McLaws, I am not criticizing Microsoft for changing its course. I agree with him that the big mistake was not coming clean and admitting that Longhorn, as originally outlined, wasn't going to work. The stuff we saw at the Professional Developers Conference in 2003, which was Longhorn's first coming out party, looked snazzy. But Microsoft couldn't pull it off.

Being upfront about Longhorn -- and, as McLaws also suggests -- changing the code-name (Windows "Shorthorn," anyone?) to indicate it was not the same product could have changed the historical course and public perception of Windows Vista.

What if:

* the Vista development clock began ticking in August 2004, instead of August 2001? Microsoft could have claimed that Vista took just over two years (instead of five) to develop.

* Microsoft could have tabled WinFS sooner (and stopped spending countless cycles to get it to work well enough to make the centerpiece of Longhorn). The Softies could have sent WinFS to the SQL Server graveyard in 2004 instead of 2006.

* Microsoft could have dedicated some of its Windows development hands to Windows XP Service Pack (SP) 3 at an earlier point in time, thereby releasing the next XP service pack in 2005 or 2006, not in 2008.

Who knows ... Microsoft might even have managed to get Vista out in time for the holiday 2006 buying season if the company had just been up front in 2004 that it was going to release a relatively minor, yet more stable, Windows upgrade two years on the heels of Windows XP SP2. (As Windows chief Jim Allchin himself has said,  XP SP2 really was a new version of Windows, not just a traditional service pack.)

Sure it's a lot of should-have/could-have/would haves. But definitely something worth pondering on the eve of the Vista launch.

Update: McLaws has some comebacks on my what-if Vista-history timeline.  

Topic: Windows

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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21 comments
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  • Vista Vista Vista.....

    after using the RTM for a month here is what I think of it.

    1. UAC isn't annoying (this WILL vary from person to person) but I am a power user and do more than most I might get a UAC prompt once a week and its usually to do with modifying the TCP/IP stack. However SU beats UAC because of how windows handles profiles when using UAC. UAC = runas +secure logon, SU is true privilege elevation.

    2. It's fast, darn fast.
    3. It's stable, very stable. some programs have locked but I haven't rebooted since install.
    4. Search is greatly enhanced, and as always search folders rule.
    5. Aero is prettier than OSX (IMO), but its implementation seems to be no more than a skin, whereas XGL and OSX have a true 3d feel to them. Plus they both have the cube for a desktop manager.
    6. and finally, it really was NOT worth the wait.

    I like it better than XP for a lot of reasons, but it really fell short of my expectations.
    JoeMama_z
  • Why don't you be up front

    with all your less than successful efforts? Gawd knows you have a boat load of them.

    How is Microsoft Watch doing???
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • There's a perfectly good defense of Microsoft!

      Sorry, No_Ax - in this case, a good attack does not make a good defense.

      If one can't directly argue the points made in the article without attacking the author, it's usually assumed that since the points weren't addressed in the rebuttal, they're likely darned good ones.

      I'm sure Ms. Foley appreciates your help, though!
      Zeppo9191
      • Up To Her Old Tricks

        Mary Jo up to her usual standard of journalism. crappy..
        Moosehouse
    • A little defensive about another Microsoft failing?

      How about trying to address anything that was said in the article?
      B.O.F.H.
      • amazingly enough...no reply forthcoming

        He's good at throwing shallow insults at anyone stupid enough to read his posts, but never big enough to answer the responses.
        mdsmedia
  • "couldn't pull it off"...

    ... or didn't have the time?

    In the interview linked, Mr. Allchin states that SP 2 and other products took a lot of time that could have been spent on Vista, and that the clock really began in 2004.

    That's not inconsistent with the Comment.

    So how would Vista have been out any sooner if the company admitted in 2004 that Vista had been a lower priority for a while?

    Not a criticism, a confusion.
    Anton Philidor
    • Allchin's comment

      This is the Allchin comment to which I was referring:

      "Now I so wish it had been called XP release 2 or something like that. And Steve (Ballmer) said I should do that at the time, but he also understood my rationale."

      I was trying to get at the fact that XP SP2 is not a "mere" service pack. It was really a full update and could have been marketed as a new version of Windows.
      Mary Jo Foley
      • At Least SP-2 was...

        FREE. And it was well worth it because of the security features: firewall, pop-up blocker and much more.

        Free is good; that point should never be ignored when SP-2 is brought up.

        Furthermore, when posters rant about the 6-year gap between XP and Vista, they are ignoring the SP-2 acknowledged as as a full upgrade released in September 2004.

        The 75+ Windows XP which came after SP-2...well, they are also free.
        Zonny
    • Still...

      Your comment I questioned was this one:

      Who knows ? Microsoft might even have managed to get Vista out in time for the holiday 2006 buying season if the company had just been up front in 2004 that it was going to release a relatively minor, yet more stable, Windows upgrade two years on the heels of Windows XP SP2.

      Why would being "up front" get the product out sooner?


      You're accurate about the 2004 start. Quoting Mr. Allchin:

      "The truth is that Windows Vista has been done in two and a quarter years. That's the truth. We basically started in August or so of 2004."


      But I'm confused about why you made this a "What if..."

      "What if:
      * the Vista development clock began ticking in August 2004, instead of August 2001? Microsoft could have claimed that Vista took just over two years (instead of five) to develop."

      You knew it did; Mr. Allchin said so, and you did refer to Vista as starting in August 2004.

      So why be tentative here?


      And, third question, are you calling Vista "... a relatively minor, yet more stable, Windows upgrade ..."?
      Anton Philidor
  • Hindsight is the only perfect science

    ALl we can be greatful for is that real professionals worked on Vista and Mary Jo had nothing to do with it.
    TonyMcS
    • a good blogger

      is just what MS needed for Vista... someone to get the news out in such a fashion that it wouldn't get so much negativity...

      so, if Mary Jo had been dealing with Vista while it was in the works, they probably wouldn't have suffered such a bad rap with the community.
      shryko
  • Stop feeding the monkeys

    You may not know that ZDNet bloggers get paid according to hits. So Paul Murphy and Mary Jo make their money by putting out fantasy, speculation and outright rubbish in the hope of generating more controversy.

    Please stop feeding the monkeys.
    TonyMcS
    • Monkeys!

      Yes, you are feeding the monkeys.

      That's why I don't mind trolls, pointless comments or repeat comments like you made on this post.

      Every dumb thing you say puts money in my bank account. So -- THANKS! :)
      Mary Jo Foley
      • Truth

        Well, gotta say that it's indeed refreshing to hear someone come out and state the
        truth. And basically say, "What are you going to do about it?"

        Well done.

        Here's another couple of coins in your bank account.
        tekspek1
    • says he who's just posted twice in a row!!

      Mary Jo makes some really good and valid points. How about specifying what she says that is rubbish. You can't, can you?
      mdsmedia
  • Thanks, author.

    "Sure it's a lot of should-have/could-have/would haves. But definitely something worth pondering on the eve of the Vista launch."

    Its good to see at least one ZDnet author acknowledge possible alternative interpretations to their article.

    Thank you for being professional.
    addraek
  • Rewriting Vista history

    The thing is it's highly unlikely that Microsoft aver intended to release any of the hyped functionality that was Longhorn. Longhorn was simply the marketing hype that made competitors systems seem less than desirable until Microsoft could release a system, that, while not quite up to the competitors standards, could be guaranteed, by virtue of OEM agreements, to be available on 90% of the computers sold, and be good enough to keep most of the people from swapping to a competitors product.
    tracy anne
    • Not mere hype

      I followed the technical news of what was going on with Longhorn during its development. There was real ambition behind the development effort. The problem was that "their eyes were bigger than their stomach". They were trying to use .Net for more than they later found it was capable. Secondly, their .Net projects were taking longer than expected. They looked at their developer capabilities and found that it would just be more efficient for them to program things in C/C++, aka "native code". The "reset" was a decision to throw out some of the .Net code and instead write it in "native code". I'm not sure what they were using as a kernel before. Initially it sounded like they were "rewriting it from scratch". During the "reset" they decided to use Windows Server 2003's kernel as its basis.

      I agree with Mary Jo. Vista is more evolutionary than revolutionary. The only major improvements I can see from a user's perspective are that it's more secure, and the Aero Glass UI. It's more than the nice looking screen. MS did a major rewrite of the GUI code. It's now based on DirectX, rather than GDI, which means faster screen updates. This'll be nice when the computer is working on something that's device or CPU intensive and you want to switch between windows, or you're watching something update. In Windows as it is now, if the CPU is busy, you end up waiting a while before you see the screen update. In Vista it will be instantaneous. There are some other niceties as well, like the dashboard with gadgets. This will enable people to get small amounts of information through the internet without having to open a browser and go to a site.

      Even when Longhorn was first announced, the only things that seemed revolutionary to me were WinFS and what was called "Monad" at the time, now called "PowerShell". WinFS was looking like a real technology. I saw a demo of it, and was impressed by it. It's too bad it's being relegated to SQL Server. It seems to me it was one of those cases where MS snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

      It's been said that PowerShell is only going to be released with Exchange Server, but it's currently available in the .Net Framework SDK, a developer toolset, as well.
      Mark Miller
  • A Long Horn deflated to a micr-soft! Of course

    they couldn't get it out on time- Apple hadn't yet invented everthing they needed to emulate!

    I kept staring at the horizon, but the vista was always the same, bland and a long way of! We will see what occurs in the next year, and I look forward to it!
    hirez