Microsoft delays SQL Server, Visual Studio upgrades

Microsoft has pushed back the release date for a major upgrade to its database and developer tools to the first half of 2005, a delay of as much as six months.

Yukon, the code name for the next version of Microsoft's SQL Server database, and Whidbey, the code name for an upgrade to Visual Studio .Net, had both been due in the second half of 2004, Microsoft has said.

Both products are seen as key to the software maker's push into enterprise computing. Whidbey is to include a wealth of improvements to make programmers more productive and help them build more robust applications, while Yukon will add scalability and other improvements that should help Microsoft compete better with database market leaders Oracle and IBM.

"Microsoft made the decision to delay the delivery of these products to ensure that they meet the high quality requirements of our customers," a Microsoft spokeswoman said in an e-mail statement. The company remains on track to deliver Beta 2 of Yukon and Beta 1 of Whidbey in the coming months, the spokeswoman said.

In fact, Microsoft has decided to release an additional beta of Yukon, Beta 3, at the end of this year, said Tom Rizzo, director of product management for SQL Server. The idea is to give customers more time to run the software in production environments and provide Microsoft with more feedback to fine-tune the software before its final release, he said.

Microsoft has not run into technical difficulties with the development of either Yukon or Whidbey, according to Rizzo. The products will be tightly integrated and Microsoft has said it plans to release them concurrently.

"Based on the scope of Yukon -- it's a big release, there's a lot of innovation in there -- we wanted to give it the extra bake time that we think customers and partners really wanted," he said.

The delays are unlikely to have a big impact on Microsoft from a competitive standpoint but could be an inconvenience to some of its customers, according to Rob Helm, director of research at Directions on Microsoft, an independent research company.

In 2001, Microsoft encouraged customers to sign up for three-year licensing contracts that cover the cost of upgrades to its products. SQL Server customers who signed up for such a license with the expectation that they would receive a major upgrade to SQL Server will now be disappointed, Helm noted.

While that may be true, Microsoft does not plan to extend the contracts so that customers are covered for the Yukon upgrade, Rizzo said, noting that Software Assurance includes other benefits besides upgrades. "Upgrades are a nice benefit of Software Assurance, they are not a guarantee," he said.

Delaying Yukon will also reduce the amount of time that customers will have to migrate to Microsoft's new database, Helm noted. Full support for SQL Server 7.0 and SQL Server 2000 are currently set to expire at the end of 2005.

Microsoft is considering extending the period of full support in order to give customers more time to make their migration, Rizzo said.

Besides its impact on customers, the significance of the delay can be measured in terms of its impact on other Microsoft products.

Longhorn, a major upgrade to Windows due in about 2006, is unlikely to be affected, according to Rizzo. Longhorn will include a new Windows file system, called WinFS, which uses components from Yukon. However, they are core elements of the database that have been "baked" for some time and are therefore unlikely to affect Longhorn's timing, Rizzo said.

Whidbey, meanwhile, will include an upgrade to the .Net Compact Framework, which in turn contains a significant upgrade to ASP.Net, Microsoft's Web programming framework. If ASP.Net 2.0 is delayed, that could have a knock-on effect on other Microsoft products that use a Web interface, Helm said.

"ASP.Net 2.0 does so much for content management and portal (functions) that it would be very strange not to use it in Microsoft's portal and content management products, so I'm guessing that products like SharePoint Portal Server, Content Management Server and Commerce Server, among others, would be dependent on ASP 2.0, so this could impact those products as well," Helm said.

Rizzo could not immediately say whether those products are likely to be affected.

From a competitive standpoint, delaying Yukon's introduction could be a good thing if it means that Microsoft will deliver a top-quality product with its first release, Helm said.

"The SQL Server group, because they compete with such mature products from IBM and Oracle, are extremely focused on quality, and I think that accounts for the long delay," he said.

By the time Yukon is released next year it will have been about five years since Microsoft's previous big database release, and Yukon itself has already been delayed a few times. However, Microsoft has continued to enhance SQL Server 2000 -- by adding a function for generating reports that was originally planned for Yukon, for example -- and that has helped it to grow more quickly of late than both IBM and Oracle, Helm said.

"They've proven time and again that they are prepared to take a scheduling hit in order to make sure the product works, because they just can't afford the costly embarrassment of a major bug," Helm said.

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