Microsoft recruits bloggers to preview Longhorn

Microsoft is forming a team of bloggers who will get early access to prereleases of Longhorn and will be asked to review it.

Revving its Longhorn marketing engine, Microsoft is forming a team of bloggers who will get early access to prereleases of the operating system and will be asked to review the Windows XP successor.

Microsoft Longhorn Evangelist and blogger Robert Scoble on Sunday started soliciting nominations for "Team 99" on Microsoft's Channel 9 Web site for developers. The team is named after the highway that leads into Whistler, British Columbia, where the future operating system's namesake Longhorn Saloon is located.

Team 99 should start with about 20 people, including some developers and some "super users," according to Scoble. All members will have to sign nondisclosure agreements because they will get access to early versions of the software and other information before it is publicly released, Scoble wrote in his Channel 9 posting.

While not billed as a beta or early adopter group, Team 99 members will be asked to provide Microsoft feedback on Longhorn. "They'll tell us where we're screwing up, what we're doing well, and will be the world's top authorities on Longhorn," Scoble wrote.

A Microsoft spokesman confirmed the existence of the Team 99 project.

Word of the Team 99 initiative comes as Microsoft starts talking up Longhorn again. Last week the software maker released a prebeta version of the Windows XP successor for the hardware community and earlier in April the company's Windows Chief Jim Allchin went on a media tour to promote the operating system.

Soliciting the help of bloggers to evangelize Longhorn is one of Microsoft's new strategies for educating the developer community, said Michael Cherry, a lead analyst at Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Washington.

"Microsoft in the last little while has been working very hard looking at alternative methods of getting out information to developers. This is to me just another attempt," he said. "Hopefully the bloggers will be people who can look at Longhorn and assess its feature set in their particular interest and communicate about it."

Microsoft unveiled Longhorn in late 2003 at a conference for developers, but then reined in its ambitions for the operating system last year, hoping to release it in late 2006. Microsoft clipped some of Longhorn's key features, most notably the unified storage system called WinFS, and went silent on Longhorn until a few weeks ago.

Thomas Smith, manager of desktop engineering at a large Houston-based company that he asked not to be named, thinks the Team 99 members might have significant influence on Longhorn development.

"I think this group will have a large enough voice that it could really make a difference," Smith said. He is interested in joining and nominated himself on the Channel 9 Web site, but he is not a blogger, which according to Scoble's rules disqualifies him for Team 99.

Longhorn is slated to be widely available by the end of next year. A first official beta version, meant for software developers, is due by the end of June. A second beta, meant for IT professionals, is also planned, but Microsoft has not given a timeframe for that version. A second Longhorn-themed Professional Developers Conference is scheduled for September.

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