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Microsoft Plans Transition To Longhorn

If the current state of Windows is a good but bug-prone operating system with an outdated file system and uninspiring search capabilities, and the future is a more-bulletproof platform with unified storage and intelligence-injected data retrieval, how do businesses get from here to there?

The answer involves a raft of Microsoft products due between now and the end of next year that, if delivered as promised, should help customers cut back efforts that go into patching systems and devote more of their IT resources to business innovation and opportunity.

That's Bill Gates' optimistic goal: "We've got to free up overhead in IT in order that those dollars can go against the new applications," Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect said in a Nov. 16 speech at the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas.

Not coincidentally, such a shift would bode well for Microsoft, too. In its most recent fiscal quarter, sales of the company's desktop operating systems were flat and contracts for new enterprise licenses were lower than anticipated. Microsoft acknowledged customer concerns over software security were partly to blame for the lag.

The road map involves security-focused updates, or service packs, for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 and revamped tools and procedures for getting refreshed software and bug fixes to all versions of Windows. Longer term, Microsoft has laid out key features planned for its next-generation operating system, code-named Longhorn, including a unified file system that manages different data types, sophisticated data-retrieval technology conceived by Microsoft Research, and juiced-up graphics. Yet company officials remain noncommittal on Longhorn's delivery date, with a client version not expected until 2005 or later and a server edition after that.

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