After re-jigging the 'three pillars' of functionality that underpin the next version of Windows, codenamed Longhorn, Microsoft will need to work hard in the months ahead if it is to provide customers with compelling reasons to migrate.
The three pillars of the software giant's next generation Windows OS, due to ship in late 2006, originally comprised Avalon, a new graphics and presentation subsystem, Indigo, a Web services and communications architecture, and WinFS, a new file system.
But Microsoft has now decided to backport Avalon and Indigo to Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 to encourage developers to start building applications, which means the features are no longer unique to Longhorn. It has also stripped out WinFS completely and will not now make the offering available in the initial client release of Longhorn at all, let alone the server version. Full details of the three pillars of Longhorn, and details on what has happenned to them since they were first announced, can be be found on the last page of this article.
Neil Macehiter, a partner at MWD Advisors, believes that the move reflects the importance that Microsoft attaches to companies signing up to its Software Assurance programme — a three-year software maintenance scheme by which mid-sized and large enterprise customers agree to pay a set annual fee to receive upgrades without having to pay extra. The obvious appeal of the scheme to Microsoft is that it receives a predictable revenue stream.
But customers, especially in Europe, have been voicing dissatisfaction because many feel they have not received value for money over recent years from the SA scheme. This, according to Annette Jump, a principal analyst at Gartner, has led the software vendor to try and "add value through initiatives such as training and support to persuade companies to sign up again and in some cases, it's even reducing prices".
But Macehiter believes that Microsoft's back-porting strategy, while useful to encourage crucial developer buy-in, is also a "double-edged sword".
"Microsoft must provide developers with access to the technology — hence the availability of Avalon, Indigo and WinFS on Windows XP and Server 2003 — but that means the applications will also be available on pre-Longhorn releases of the OS, potentially reducing the incentive to upgrade," he says.