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Microsoft Delays Toolset And Database

Interim releases of Windows may precede next major upgrade

Microsoft's technology road map has some new twists and turns. The company said last week it will delay upgrades to its Visual Studio .Net development tools and SQL Server database. Microsoft product managers also have begun talking for the first time about PC and server versions of Windows that could appear prior to the next-generation Longhorn operating system.

The next release of Visual Studio .Net, previously called Whidbey and newly named Visual Studio 2005, promises to improve developer productivity via new debugging and collaboration tools. The SQL Server revision, once dubbed Yukon and now called SQL Server 2005, involves a redesign of the database's data-movement tools and an injection of business-intelligence capabilities. Both have slipped from general availability in the second half of this year to the first half of next.

The delays are a cause of frustration for some customers. "We had planned on implementing Yukon as soon as it came out," says Don Watters, data group manager with PhotoWorks Inc., a $30 million photo-finishing company. "I've already invested a lot of time and energy in training for something that's not going to come to fruition until next year."

PhotoWorks runs its business on SQL Server 7 and SQL Server 2000. The company hopes to take advantage of SQL Server 2005's improved data-transformation services and ability to store data in XML format, Watters says.

The change in delivery dates also could be a "gotcha" for businesses that signed up for Microsoft's Software Assurance contracts, which give companies access to new technologies made available during the life of the agreement. If a delivery date slips, it could push that product outside the terms of the contract, leaving customers empty handed. "For people that bought Software Assurance, I'd imagine they were hoping to get an upgrade out of the deal," says Robert Egan, VP of IT with Boise Cascade Corp. "We feel good we chose not to buy Software Assurance."

Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer

Customers want better patch automation, CEO Ballmer says

Photo courtesy of Reuters
The time line for Windows releases is fuzzier. Until this month, Longhorn was the next milestone on the Windows road map (see "A Platform Shift In Search Of A Killer App," Nov. 3, 2003). Over the past few weeks, Microsoft product managers have begun to suggest that interim releases of Windows for PCs and servers would come before Longhorn. "We're trying to figure out how to get the work we're doing into our customers' hands," says Greg Sullivan, a Windows lead product manager.

Boise Cascade's Egan likes the idea of updates to Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 because it would relieve his company's IT staff from having to download feature add-ons manually. "That would be a good thing," he says.

Nearer term, Microsoft has promised to improve Windows security with service packs for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, due this year.

This week, the company is expected to preview Software Update Services 2.0, which is intended to simplify downloading updates and patches for Windows and other Microsoft products. Customers have been "pounding us, pounding us, pounding us for better patch-automation solutions," CEO Steve Ballmer said in October. A final release is due in the second quarter.

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