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Daniel Eran

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photo Is Microsoft Vista the new QuarkXPress? Part III
Ready to Fumble

It looks like Microsoft is preparing to similarly fumble the desktop operating market. Microsoft quite famously didn't invent the desktop operating system, but did deliver a product that served a need, and established themselves as the single supplier for PC desktop operating systems. Like Quark, their position has been virtually unchallenged for as long as anyone can remember.

But Microsoft has recently shifted from being the pace setter in desktop operating systems, to a position like Quark as an apologetic contender scrambling to achieve feature parity. Just as Apple is preparing to launch new Intel based Macs and for the first time compete directly in the PC market, Microsoft trying to generate excitement for an overdue, overhyped new release: Windows Vista, formerly referred to by the codename Longhorn.

Following the release of Windows 2000 (ominously also known as NT version 5.0), Microsoft announced two major operating system milestones, named Whistler and Blackcomb. Whistler ended up being delivered as Windows XP (5.1), but Blackcomb was pushed far into the future, and Longhorn was announced as a new intermediate project.

After releasing a server version, Windows Server 2003 (5.2) to match and expand upon XP's features, Microsoft announced in 2004 that they were rethinking the Longhorn project and starting new work based on 5.2 and the features included in the Windows XP service pack 2.

Over the last two years, Microsoft has been steadily dropping features promised for Longhorn at an astonishing pace. While Longhorn first absorbed many of the goals slated for Blackcomb, the sweeping feature set has ended up being pared down to the point of sounding more like an extensive service pack for Windows XP, despite Longhorn/Vista's new designation as version 6.0.

Recently, Microsoft seems to be devoting more attention to the planned media event than the operating system it will introduce.

Key features like WinFS, which Microsoft has been talking about since 1991, were scaled down from the original concept of a futuristic, object oriented file system, to simply being a metadata layer on top of the existing file system, and redefining WinFS as "Future Storage". Even so, Microsoft eventually announced that WinFS won't even be ready for Vista.

Microsoft certainly isn't the only software company to promise futuristic technology and then fail to deliver anything. The practice is so widespread that the industry has coined a name for such nebulous projects: vaporware.

However, only a software developer with nothing to lose can afford to work exclusively on vaporware for long. Like Quark, Microsoft is facing new competition. Also like Quark, Microsoft is seriously underestimating the danger it faces in fumbling the ball just as that competition is in place for an interception.

Part IV > Seriously Underestimated

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