By cutting WinFS from Longhorn and indefinitely delaying the storage system, Microsoft has also again delayed the Microsoft Business Framework (MBF), a new Windows programming layer that is closely tied to WinFS.

Developers will now have to wait longer for MBF, which promises to make it easier to write business applications for the Windows platform by moving some of the base-level code out of the applications and into the operating system. MBF sits on top of the .Net framework and provides basic functions such as order entry and general ledger for application developers to build on.

This is the second delay for MBF this year. Microsoft had planned to ship the framework next year, together with Visual Studio 2005. Those plans were changed and in May Microsoft said MBF would be aligned with Longhorn and WinFS in particular.

"The current plan remains to ship MBF in the WinFS time frame. The MBF team, as a result of the decision to remove the link between WinFS and Longhorn, is investigating if it is possible to release earlier, but no commitments can be made at this time," a Microsoft spokesman said.

The delay and Microsoft's inability to give a new release target is bad news for developers who are waiting for MBF. Furthermore, it gives the rival Java platform a competitive edge because technology similar to MBF is already available to Java developers, some industry experts said.

"This technology is readily available for Java and has been for years, in different flavours even," said Frans Bouma, a senior software engineer at Solutions Design. "That makes .Net developers jealous," said Bouma, who is a .Net developer and has been awarded Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) status.

Yes, .Net developers can build business applications today, but it takes more time, money and the risk of developer errors, Bouma said. "That just should not be so - the framework should be there for you and developers should only have to focus on the real logic of their application, not the plumbing."

Mike Gilpin, a vice president and research director at Forrester said it is a problem for Microsoft that it does not have a consistent development framework for business applications. However, Java is not superior to .Net in that sense, he said. "I have heard Java developers complaining about having to do low-level coding," Gilpin said.

However, it depends on the tools. Users of BEA's WebLogic Workshop, for example, don't do much low-level coding, Gilpin said. "But if you're doing straight Enterprise JavaBeans development in a plain Java IDE then there is a lot of low-level coding that you have to do," he said.

Bouma suspects Microsoft has not made MBF enough of a priority. "If they don't put enough people on it, it won't advance," he said.

MBF is in trouble, said Greg DeMichillie, a lead analyst at Directions on Microsoft. "This sounds to me like a group struggling to figure out what their plan is," he said. "Any confusion on Microsoft's part or changing of plans, certainly gives competitors like Java an opening."

However, the continuing delay of MBF is not bad news for everyone, DeMichillie pointed out. Providing the plumbing for the Windows platform is the bread and butter of many service providers and they stand to gain from the delays, DeMichillie said. "Microsoft is getting squeezed from multiple sides," he said.

MBF is not just key for third-party software vendors and corporate developers building on the Windows platform: a new family of Microsoft ERP and CRM applications - known as "Project Green" - is also supposed to rely on the framework, Microsoft has said.

Microsoft recently disclosed that it is slowing down development work on Project Green and is instead focusing on its existing offerings. The software maker even reduced the number of developers assigned to Project Green from 200 to 70 because the first products are not expected out until 2008 at the earliest, Microsoft senior VP Doug Burgum said in June. Microsoft originally had planned to ship the first results of Project Green as early as the end of this year.

Longhorn will ship in 2006 with a new user interface supported by the Avalon graphics subsystem and a new communications subsystem called Indigo, but without WinFS. Microsoft also said late last week that it will add support for Avalon and Indigo as well as the Longhorn WinFX application programming model to Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.

Microsoft plans to provide early MBF code, so-called alpha code, to its early-adopter partners for MBF later this year, the company spokesman said.