Longhorn beta likely to slip into 2005

A first beta release of the next version of Windows likely will be delayed until next year because Microsoft is concentrating first on a security-focused update to Windows XP, the Redmond, Washington-based company said.

Microsoft had said it would deliver a beta version of Longhorn, code name for the next Windows release, in mid-2004. However, the test version is now expected in early 2005 because many developers working on Longhorn have been reassigned to work on Service Pack 2 (SP2) for Windows XP, a Microsoft spokesman said.

"Based on what has happened over the past year in the area of security, we took a look at what was going on with Windows ... and pulled resources from Longhorn development in order to deliver Windows XP Service Pack 2. That slightly impacted the beta schedule for Longhorn," said Greg Sullivan, lead product manager for Windows at Microsoft.

Windows XP SP2, scheduled for release in the first half of this year, is more than the usual roll-up of bug fixes and updates. Microsoft is using the update to make significant changes to Windows that are designed to improve security in four main areas: network protection, memory protection, e-mail and Web browsing.

Longhorn is a major new Windows release, a "big bet" for Microsoft, Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates said last year. Gates has described Longhorn as a "big breakthrough release" and the most significant release of Windows since Windows 95.

Software developers have already had a first look at Longhorn. Microsoft released a special preview version of the software at its Professional Developers Conference in October last year. An updated developer preview will be distributed at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Seattle next month, Sullivan said.

Although pulling developers off Longhorn to work on Windows XP SP2 affected the Longhorn beta release, the long-term effects are negligible, he said.

"We're coming down the home stretch in delivering SP2 and some of those (reassigned) resources have already begun to go back to focus on Longhorn. I don't think the long-term impact is too significant," Sullivan said.

Microsoft in May last year set 2005 as the release year for Longhorn, but has since backed away from that commitment. Gates earlier this week said Longhorn is "not a date driven release." However, he also said that speculation that the operating system will come out in 2006 is "probably valid speculation."

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