Word, in the form of this Infoworld report, is beginning to trickle out from Redmond about the next Microsoft operating-system cycle. In two-and-a-half years or so, Microsoft expects to unveil Vista’s successor (code-named, apparently, “Vienna” — or maybe something else).
The report provides eerie echoes of the early days of Longhorn, as Vista was originally known. At the start of the Longhorn process in 2002 the promise was a similar 2 1/2 year delivery (see for instance this now amusing report from the WINHEC hardware conference in 2002, headlined “Longhorn slips to Late 2004”). In summer of 2003 Bill Gates and other Microsoft spokespeople began telling us about all the cool stuff Longhorn would provide. At the same time, Microsoft buckled down for what would turn out to be a year-long, all-hands-on-deck effort to tighten the security holes in Windows XP; this process resulted in XP’s “Service Pack 2” release in 2004. In 2004 Microsoft realized that the original Longhorn vision was hopelessly out of reach, and it now admits that it “rebooted” the entire development process at this point.
So that’s when Microsoft exec Ben Fathi starts the clock in looking at how long it really takes Microsoft to prepare a new edition of Windows:
Vista shipped about two-and-a-half years after XP SP 2, and Vista’s follow-up is expected to take about the same amount of time, according to Fathi. “You can think roughly two, two-and-a-half years is a reasonable time frame that our partners can depend on and can work with,” he said. “That’s a good timeframe for refresh.”
All well and good. Only when Fathi starts talking about what new stuff Vienna will have to offer users, it all sounds remarkably like what Microsoft had to say in Longhorn’s early days:
So what will be the coolest new feature in Vienna? According to Fathi, that’s still being worked out. “We’re going to look at a fundamental piece of enabling technology. Maybe its hypervisors, I don’t know what it is,” he said. “Maybe it’s a new user interface paradigm for consumers.”
Over on Engadget they’re interpreting this talk to mean stuff like “full virtualization and a radical new user interface” and “a break in compatibility with older applications.”
But to me it all sounds like: “We’re going to do big, big things, but we don’t know exactly what they are yet.” And that is precisely what Longhorn’s leaders were saying as they marched their troops down the roads that would swallow the project’s first 2-3 years.
[tags]microsoft, software, windows, vista, vienna[/tags]
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Jeez, you’d think they’d learn. Speaking as a software guy with ‘nigh on 20 years experience, here’s how it works:
o) You release a new OS. If you’re lucky, parts of it work well, and parts of it are for shit. (If you’re unlucky, you have Windows ME.)
o) You spend a year to 18 months releasing patches, service packs, fixes, and whatnot to bring up the parts of the new release that are for shit to full functionality. You have to do this, because if you start a full-on push for the next OS while there are huge problems with the “New, Improved!” OS, you are in Big Trouble. (Did I mention Windows ME?)
o) Once you have a functional, stable, working OS–a year to 18 months after your big, fancy release part for it–*then* you can *really* start work on the next version of the OS. Up until then, you will have had design people doing general stuff, laying out what you *want*, what you hope to have, what you would like, and so forth, but it’s all vapor. Until you have those teams of coders, QA people, testers, bug fixers, and so on available, you can’t do much more than have meetings with Marketing and tell each other how great your next version of the software is going to be.
So, sometime around March of 2008, when the next election cycle is *really* on fire, *then* the planning and cranking for the next version of Windows will really be happening. For the next six to nine months, all the early adopters will be roundly cursing Microsoft for their problems (I’m hearing about all the security issues getting in the way of existing software–the beefed-up security code making existing apps not run properly, that is–and interoperability problems between Vista and Windows Mobile, but hey, the day is young!), and Microsoft will be scrambling to not only identify what the problems *are*, but what is *critical*, what are *Microsoft’s* problems, and what problems they will be leaning on third-party providers (McAfee? Games developers? Who knows.) to fix. Then all the stuff will need to be fixed, tested, packaged, distributed, and left in the market to soak for a period of time to acheive it’s *own* stability.
This is the nature of software. You can curse Microsoft if you want, but it’s just the way software is. Until software collides with the marketplace, you never really know what bugs are in it. And Windows is such a pervasive piece of software, it *must* be out there for a period of time; it’s necessary. (You *can* blame Microsoft for their absurd promises, though; no excuse for those.)
In the meantime, *anything* that one hears out of Redmond about the next version of Windows is just so much marketing drivel. There is simply *no way* to speed up the process of allowing an OS with this huge an install base to become stable enough to create a follow-on. No matter what marketing people would like to believe, nine women can’t make a baby in a month.
In a few weeks or months the new version of Mac OS X will be available. It will then be announced that Vienna (or whatever) will do all that and more! It will take MS well over 3 years to develop a golden master, and by that time most of the changes that excited people will have vaporized and become non-existant. Instead, it will have a slightly new GUI, work slowly on current hardware, and have issues with drivers. Consumers will be told to wait until the first service pack, but early adopters will buy it anyway, resulting in ten of thousands of worker-hours being wasted. By the time the first service pack is made available, Apple will have produced a new version of their OS, giving MS ideas for their next OS some 3 years away.