Microsoft says Windows Vista, its new client operating system, will be out in time for the 2006 holiday season. Given the company's history of ill-fated release predictions, it wouldn't be surprising to see a slip. But I think Windows Vista could make the late 2006 ship date.
Microsoft executives know they need to put out more regular releases. To make sure they come through on the 2006 target, they've already cut some features, and I think they'll do more if necessary. They really can't drag out this release any longer, since it will have been five years since Windows XP. They're going to be pouring megadollars behind Vista marketing in their latest attempt to recreate Windows 95-like buzz. So the product has to ship, at least for consumers.
If the Professional Edition or new Enterprise Edition should slip, that's not such a big deal. Most corporations won't rush to migrate to Windows Vista anyway. Gartner, in fact, is predicting that Windows Vista won't reach 10 per cent installed base in large enterprises until two years after it ships.
Corporations need extra time to test applications, and many have to wait for their key independent software vendors to port vertical packages to new operating systems. Plus, even though Windows Vista promises plenty of improvements, the new features won't hold strong appeal for every organisation.
Some of the more prominent ones include improved search capabilities, a new version of Internet Explorer, User Account Protection (which will enable administrators to give users only the privileges they need to do their work) and management tools that will help users consolidate operating system images.
Open-source alternatives
Novell and Red Hat will continue to try to crack Microsoft's domination on the desktop, focusing on the cash-strapped public sector. Both have new desktop releases scheduled for next year -- Novell around mid-year and Red Hat by year's end -- but they'll continue to face an uphill climb.
One of Red Hat's major areas of focus in its upcoming release is "stateless Linux," to allow users to gain access to a stored desktop image and preferences from a remote location. Novell's main project is unifying the code based for its Linux client and server offerings.
"What we're going to really try to do is position ourselves as the enterprise play in the marketplace," says Ron Hovsepian, Novell's president and chief operating officer. "The way we accomplish that is by having the binary compatibles inside the server version all the way to the desktop, so no matter where the customer wants to use Linux, they're going to have one common code base."
Serving up new servers
Novell and Red Hat are due for new releases long before Microsoft gets its next major Windows Server version, code-named Longhorn, out the door. Microsoft is bridging the gap with an interim product known as R2, but Longhorn is targeted for the second half of 2007.
Time will tell if Microsoft's new-found discipline on the desktop ship date extends to the server operating system. The company already has noted that one key feature -- a thin hypervisor to support the creation of virtual machine -- won't make the initial Longhorn Server release. Microsoft officials say the delivery vehicle has yet to be determined.
In the meantime, Microsoft plans a new version of its Virtual Server software for the second half of 2006. But both Novell and Red Hat are promoting virtualisation capabilities they say will be built into the next major versions of their Linux distributions due next year.
The next big trend
The buzz around virtualisation will grow ever louder among corporate IT managers -- particularly among IT shops that have underutilised servers and are anxious to consolidate their hardware. When Novell, Red Hat and Microsoft build virtualisation capabilities into the operating system, that will start to put pressure on market leader VMware Inc. Some of the largest financial service companies have been pushing for enhanced virtualisation capabilities in the Linux environment.