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The Question: What will be the differences between Windows XP and the ever-slipping Windows Longhorn? What will make me want to upgrade? Why will it be worth worth it?

The Answer: I don’t know.

Let’s review the basics.

  • Windows 3.1, released Spring of 1992.
  • Windows 95, released in 1995.
  • Windows XP, released Fall of 2001.
  • Windows XP SP2, released Fall of 2004.

Differences between Windows 3.1 and Win 95 were huge – a new GUI, great advances in processor usage, the jump from a 16- to 32-bit operating system, etc. Quite arguably one of the best releases Microsoft has ever made. Windows 98 improved upon Win 95, and generally made things better. WinXP was a rather large change from Win98 (though built mostly on Win2000 technologies), presenting a new*er* GUI, and much more rock-solid stability than 98 had; essentially no more BSOD’s. Wonderful! Difference between XP and XPSP2? Well, besides three years of development time… two words: “security patches.”

Microsoft has kept pretty much in stride with a three-year development cycle. 92-95, 95-98, and 98-01. However, we are now facing the break in that cycle. Longhorn, initially slated to be released this year, has fallen to 2006, then 2007, and is now back at Christmas 2006. At best predictions, that is a 5-6 year break between the release of WinXP and Longhorn. Some may say “But look, SP2 was three years after XP, and Longhorn will be only 2-3 years after that!” Fellow power users, do you really accept that SP2 was a major revision? Aside from patching holes and finally turning on basic security measures, did SP2 provide any really great gains for the end-user or developer? Personally, I answer no.

Well fine, let’s give Microsoft a break and go with their Christmas 2006 release date, giving them a 5 year cycle. Besides, hasn’t Billy G. promised us the world on a silver platter with Longhorn? Isn’t all of this development time going to be worth it? Avalon will stun us all, WinFS will read your mind and give you your file, and Indigo will send every email you could ever think of. Great! These “three core pillars” are going to revolutionize the way you work, as stated by Paul Thurrott. But wait, what’s this? One pillar is coming out before Longhorn, one is dead, and only one is left to stay the course? Where is Longhorn?