Forget Vista. Long live Longhorn client!

A handful of members of the Joejoe.Org Windows enthusiast site have begun building a Longhorn-client-based, community-developed product they currently are calling “Longhorn Reloaded.

Should old, abandonned operating systems just fade away? Or is there some way to breathe new life into them – without running afoul of the copyright police?

A handful of members of the Joejoe.Org Windows enthusiast site may soon find out. A self-selected group of site members have begun building a Longhorn-client-based, community-developed product they currently are calling “Longhorn Reloaded.”

(The name is a play on a Microsoft marketing program dating back to the early part of the decade, which was known as “Windows Reloaded.” Originally, some Microsoft watchers, present company included, believed Windows Reloaded was the code name of a new, unannounced version of Windows.)

On October 19, a Joejoe developer identified as “RayM” posted a call for others interested in banding together to take one of Microsoft’s pre-2004 test builds of Windows Longhorn (Build No. 4074, released at WinHEC in 2004) “make GUI (graphical user interface) modifications and redistribute the ISO with our modifications in it.”

“As every longhorn fan knows microsoft cancelled the longhorn project and started the new os ‘Windows Vista,’ said RayM. “My idea was to discuss what features we longhorn fans want to have in longhorn, and try to create modifications and add them to one of the latest builds, to continue (microsoft’s) work on the Longhorn OS.

“then maybe we can put all our creativity all together in one new Longhorn OS!! Just to put all modifications we made for Windows Longhorn in a stable and good looking build of microsoft and make it our Joejoe build of Windows Longhorn Operating system!!” RayM continued.

In August 2004, Microsoft acknowledged it was going back to the drawing board with the then-codenamed Longhorn version of Windows, in a move that has come to be known as the “Longhorn Reset.” Microsoft cut the WinFS file system out of Longhorn and replaced the core with the Windows Server 2003 code.

Since the initial Longhorn Reloaded posting, a number of Joejoe forum participants have joined the effort and have began soliciting wider participation from testers, skinners, designers and programmers.

It’s unclear whether any of the individuals interested in participating in the project has contacted Microsoft. It’s also not clear under what type of license the group is considering releasing the product, if and when they can deliver it.

RayM did not respond to an e-mail query, seeking further clarifications.

When asked about the legality of the proposed Longhorn Reloaded project, a Microsoft spokeswoman e-mailed the following statement: “Microsoft actively encourages and supports independent developers to take advantage of the features available in our platform to create their own applications and services; however, the Windows end user licensing agreement does not allow users to modify and redistribute our code in this manner.”

Another Joejoe forum participant, “Mike,” refuted the notion that Microsoft could fight the Longhorn Reloaded project: “There are dozens of XP Custom editions out there, and not even any Microsoft Employee does care a single bean about it. So why not just make the same with Longhorn. It could end in a cool Longhorn build with lots of cool features and stuff."

Mike said he intended to replace Internet Explorer with a browser built in the Mozilla rendering engine, which he dubbed “Longzilla Explorer.”

Over the years, a number of developers have suggested that Microsoft make available some of its older products, ranging from MS-DOS, to Windows NT, as open source. If Microsoft has no plans to continue to evolve and support certain products, they argue, why not allow interested community members to do so?

Champions of the idea often cite ReactOS, a project to develop a free/open-source operating system that is binary-compatible with NT/XP and Windows Server 2003 apps and device drivers, as an example of what they’d like to do. However, the extent to which the ReactOS code base includes Microsoft-copyrighted Windows code has been up for debate – and has led, in the past, to temporary halts to the project’s development.

Outside the Windows world, there are examples of the community finding ways to keep older Microsoft products concurrent.

The “SednaX”/VFPX project in the Visual FoxPro world is one prominent example. “Sedna” is the code name for a set of technologies due out from Microsoft in 2007 that will make Visual FoxPro 9.0 interoperable with application components created by using Visual Studio 2005, the .NET Framework 2.0, Office 2007 and SQL Server 2005.

Visual FoxPro X (VFPX), formerly known as SednaX, is a set of open-source add-ons for Visual FoxPro under development by the VFP community. VFPX is not a Microsoft-backed project, but seems to have Microsoft’s blessing (at least an unofficial one, as it is hosted on the GotDotNet Code Gallery site.

The VFPX initiative, born in October 2005, is more than 800 members strong. Members are working on a variety of components that will complement VFP 9.0. The components are set to be released under the terms of the Microsoft Shared Source license.