Those dear hearts at Microsoft are busy trying to get a buzz going for Longhorn. Marketing types know the value of a teaser campaign, dribbling out hints that put just a little light onto the monstrous beauty to come. People get interested, then fascinated, trying to work out what's going to happen next and hooked on a diet of carefully-rationed facts that keep them guessing in a sea of ambiguous promise.
The trouble with Longhorn, at least on the desktop, is that there's so little to trail. You go to a briefing only to find the Microsoftie pushing the incredible significance of having thumbnails in search results. Well, er, right. Or look! You can make this window transparent, and look through it onto the windows beneath! What, like I could with my £400 Amiga twenty years ago? And today, we learn that the operating system will come with templates so you can easily fine tune it to various tasks -- not a bad idea, if you forget that you've been able to script that sort of thing in Linux for ever -- and that there'll be Monad, a new command line interface. In release two. In 2009.
I'm baffled. There's nothing wrong with taking a cool look at peripheral details, bundling up a whole load of minor improvements and announcing them as a significant release: if you got your basic architecture right the first time, you're pretty much restricted to this sort of thing for a while anyway. Likewise, there's nothing wrong with taking your time to extensively test a new feature before releasing it. I know that Monad is a thoroughly good idea. There have been betas out for a while, and it's the sort of thing you want to get right. But how on earth can it need to cook for another four years? What are they going to do with it?
Two plausible reasons suggest themselves. One is that Microsoft has decided that operating systems are pretty much done now, and isn't bothering to commit the sort of resources that could make Longhorn happen in a reasonable time. After all, if nobody's going to bother to upgrade for another hardware cycle, why waste the money? The other is that beneath the hood, some major changes are going on and a lot more is being rewritten than the surface features would suggest. If I had to guess, I'd say that if this is happening it's tied in with the whole trusted computing malarky. Longhorn may look much the same as XP or Server 2Kx, but inside are thousands of elves devoted to protecting Microsoft IP and locking down anything that might possibly offend those who have appointed themselves the guardians of all data.
Whatever is actually going on, Microsoft's teaser campaign with the media is having something like its desired effect but for perhaps a slightly different reason to that intended. I can't wait to see Longhorn proper, not because I'm in awe of what it will look like but because I can't honestly believe that it'll be as big a non-event as the clues suggest.
It can't be.