Antitrust concerns delay future Windows OS

ITworld.com |  Operating Systems

Microsoft Corp. plans to push back the next major release of its operating system, codenamed "Blackcomb," to 2005, because it fears that technology it plans to include in the release could bring it further into conflict with antitrust regulators, various industry analysts said.

In the interim, the company is expected to release a less ambitious version of Windows dubbed "Longhorn" some time in 2003 -- when Blackcomb had originally been due to ship, according to analysts from research firm Gartner Inc. Like Blackcomb, Longhorn will include features that contribute to Microsoft's much vaunted .Net initiative, but will omit database technology that would have forged greater ties between Microsoft's operating systems and its Web services.

"There is one major interesting plan in Microsoft's operating system future that has significant legal and antitrust implications," said Tom Bittman, an analyst with Gartner. "They (Microsoft) know it does, and it all relates to what would be coming out in that Blackcomb time frame."

Microsoft officials declined to discuss specific technology for future products.

The company, however, plans to bundle a database with Blackcomb that would create new ways for users to store all kinds of data -- from MP3 and e-mail files to Word documents -- and make them more easily accessible from a variety of computing devices, Gartner analysts said.

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 a database is built into the new operating system, Microsoft is likely to draw more criticisms 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 Hailstorm Web services efforts could once more make critics cry foul, analysts said.

"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," said David Smith, a Gartner analyst.

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