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SmartAdvice: Web-Based Collaboration Helps Bridge Travel, Time Gap

The next generation of Web-based collaboration tools are appearing as more companies use near-real-time sharing of documents to speed workflow, The Advisory Council says. Also, Microsoft's delay in releasing Longhorn won't affect the desktop-software strategy of most companies.

Question B: How should the recently announced changes to Microsoft's Longhorn plans affect our desktop-software strategy?

Our advice: For most businesses, not at all.

For all the noise from other IT pundits about the removal of the new WinFS file system from the promised 2006 release of Longhorn, the next major version of Windows, it doesn't really change the fundamental dynamics of the desktop software environment from a user-business perspective.

From Microsoft's perspective, there are two compelling business reasons to keep the Longhorn schedule from slipping any further. First, its revenue stream depends, in significant part, on upgrades of installed software. The gap of almost five years between Windows XP and Longhorn represents a substantial loss of upgrade revenue. Second, the credibility of its Software Assurance licensing program--never warmly received--is at risk. For example, customers who licensed Windows XP in 2002 will have their contracts run out without receiving the version upgrade they expected when signing the contract. Microsoft has twice added new features to Software Assurance (in September 2003 and June 2004) to counteract customer concerns about this issue.

Related Links

Microsoft Announces 2006 Target Date for Broad Availability of Windows Longhorn Client Operating System

Promises, Promises: Microsoft's Credibility Questioned Over Longhorn

Microsoft Tosses Freebies to License Buyers

For most vendors of Windows-based applications, Microsoft's announcement is actually good news. By retrofitting the WinFX presentation and communication APIs to Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, Microsoft promises to dramatically enlarge the available market in 2006 for applications which use those APIs, to the benefit of the entire Windows ecosystem.

We're skeptical of claims that delayed availability of the relational WinFS file system will benefit Linux at the desktop. As noted in previous SmartAdvice columns, the decision issues around desktop Linux aren't primarily the presence or absence of specific operating-system features. Even a look-alike desktop Linux requires a different set of power-user and technical-support skills than Windows, and that's unlikely to change in the next two years. Moreover, Linux is unlikely to have a deeply integrated relational file system like WinFS any earlier than Windows.

Returning to the user-business perspective, the issues we hear from clients about what they want improved in Windows focus on security and manageability. Further down the list is easier searching for files based on content, and it's already addressed by enterprise-class document-management products. Conversely, most businesses upgrade cautiously to new operating-system versions, even when the upgrade doesn't involve changing the file system. All considered, Microsoft's announcement doesn't significantly reduce the business value of Windows at the desktop.

-- Peter Schay

Humayun Beg, TAC Thought Leader, has more than 18 years of experience in business IT management, technology deployment, and risk management. He has significant experience in all aspects of systems management, software development, and project management, and has held key positions in directing major IT initiatives and projects.

Peter Schay, TAC executive VP and chief operating officer, has 30 years of experience as a senior IT executive in IT vendor and research industries. He was most recently VP and chief technology officer of SiteShell Corp. Previously at Gartner, he was group VP of global research infrastructure and support, and launched coverage of client-server computing in the early 1990s.

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