Analysts: Antitrust Concerns Could Delay Future Windows
Microsoft plans to push back its next major operating system release, code-named "Blackcomb," to 2005 because the company fears the software could bring it further into conflict with antitrust regulators, say industry analysts.
In the interim, Microsoft is likely to release a less ambitious version
of Windows dubbed "Longhorn" sometime in 2003--the date the company originally
planned to ship Blackcomb, say analysts. Like Blackcomb, Longhorn will include
features that contribute to Microsoft's much hyped
"There is one major interesting plan in Microsoft's operating system
future that has significant legal and antitrust implications," says Tom
Bittman, an analyst with
Microsoft officials declined to discuss specific technology for future products.
Analysts say Microsoft plans to bundle a database with Blackcomb that would create new ways for users to store all kinds of data. That information, from MP3 and e-mail files to Word documents, would then be more easily accessible from a variety of computing devices, Gartner analysts say.
The database offers Microsoft's interpretation of "unified storage" and uses technology that will also be included in the next release of Microsoft's SQL Server database, code-named "Yukon."
Unified storage allows disparate data to be combined in a common database and accessed from a variety of devices regardless of its format. Currently, a PC operating system stores data in a file system, where files are stored in directories on a hard drive and saved in a particular format to be retrieved by compatible applications. Allowing users to access their files from devices such as handheld computers or set-top boxes through a unified storage system is an important part of Microsoft's effort to make its operating system a basis for Internet-based computing.
If Microsoft builds a database into the new operating system, the
company is likely to draw more criticism that it is trying to leverage its
monopoly in the operating system market to expand in other sectors, in this
case the emerging Web services market. In a similar way that bundling a free
Web browser with Windows riled antitrust regulators, including a database with
the operating system that is closely tied to its much discussed
"If they incorporate a database into the operating system, that starts to get into the age-old question about bundling applications with the operating system," says David Smith, another Gartner analyst.
"The question is, to what degree can Microsoft integrate what's in the
operating system with the services it offers on the Web and avoid tripping over
the antitrust issue," says Chris Le Tocq, an analyst with
One use for the technology, according to Le Tocq, would be to make it easier for users to make use of Microsoft's Web Store, an online storage service where users can store personal files and access them over the Internet. Microsoft offers Web Store services currently to users of its Exchange Server software. It has said Web Store will be part of its HailStorm set of Web services, which also includes notification services and Passport, Microsoft's user identification service.
"It makes storing objects locally or on the Web essentially follow the same process," Le Tocq notes.
News of Blackcomb's delay emerged as Microsoft
Microsoft originally stated that Blackcomb would include all of the .Net technology that Microsoft failed to get into Windows XP and its server counterpart, Windows.Net, which is due out before June 2002. That includes greater support for industry standards for building and delivering software and services, a key part of its .Net initiative.
Exact details of Microsoft's plans are still unclear, says Gartner's Smith, who authored a research note on Microsoft's plans for unified storage in Blackcomb. Microsoft is likely to make use of XML as an enabling technology to allow users to locate and retrieve their data over the Internet, he says.
"It could make transfer between what's stored on the desktop and the Internet much easier," he said.
Microsoft first began talking about unified storage in 1993 when it began work on a project code-named "Cairo." Cairo was the company's name for the Windows NT operating system, but it lost much of its luster as Microsoft scaled back parts of the project because of concerns about antitrust issues. By the time the operating system was finally released in 1999 as Windows 2000, it lacked many of the features first touted for Cairo, including unified storage.
Microsoft tried to revisit unified storage with Windows NT and its follow-up release, Windows 2000, but ditched the plans due to technology complications and continuing concerns about antitrust matters, Smith says. A scaled-back version of unified storage was eventually delivered in Microsoft's Exchange 2000 Server, under the name Web Storage System.
Microsoft would not confirm or deny whether Blackcomb would be the next major operating system release after Windows XP. "While there obviously will be future Windows products, we cannot confirm specifics at this time," says Jim Cullinan, a spokesperson for the Windows platform group. "There are future products in development."
As far as its antitrust case causing Microsoft to delay any future Windows products, Cullinan says Microsoft is "focused on developing our products as usual."
Analysts have long speculated that Microsoft would put out an interim operating system after Windows XP but before its fully .Net-capable operating system, at least in part to drive PC sales. The company is now thought to be planning an interim release as a kind of "Plan B" as it awaits a conclusion from a U.S. District Court in its antitrust battle. The court is expected to start revisiting the case as early as this week.
"It is safe to say that the current antitrust case has major long-term implications for Microsoft's operating system plans," says Gartner's Bittman.