Tom Button, corporate vice president for Windows product management, said the company hopes to release the new Windows version, code-named Longhorn, in the second half of 2006, about five years after the release of the current version, Windows XP.
With Longhorn, Button said Microsoft plans to improve the way people find things like E-mails, photos, and documents. But in formally announcing the release date, the company said it would not be ready to include an even more advanced system for sorting, storing, and finding data. Instead, it will begin testing that system about the same time it releases Longhorn and make it available at an unspecified time later.
The ability to find and organize data on a personal computer is becoming increasingly important as people are able to amass more digital information. Right now, finding pictures, E-mails, and a Microsoft Word document, all related to the same topic--say, a vacation in Hawaii--is time-consuming and cumbersome. These new technologies aim to make it quicker and easier.
Michael Cherry, an analyst with independent researchers Directions on Microsoft, said the company probably had little choice but to reduce Longhorn's capabilities if it wanted to deliver the system on time. But he expects Microsoft to be able to offer the more advanced capabilities relatively quickly, perhaps as early as 2007.
Microsoft would not give a time frame.
Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group, said the decision "isn't a good surprise."
But he believes it will be crucial for Microsoft to have the new technology ready for the next version of Windows Server software, due out in 2007. That's because servers tend to hold much more data, making advanced searching and sorting capabilities more necessary.
Longhorn also will include new technology for enabling better visual presentation, such as three-dimensional rendering. And it will include ways to communicate more easily with other systems, such as Web-based applications or mobile devices.
But Button said users will not have to upgrade to Longhorn to use those capabilities, because applications that use them also will be able to run on Windows XP.
Cherry said the company probably decided to make the new technology compatible with XP so it could entice developers to make new applications and still find a wide enough audience.
The analyst said the move could reduce the need to upgrade, although he suspects that Microsoft will add other features to Longhorn that make it more compelling.