It is very suprising that in the light of the stupendous failure of Windows XP to lure businesses away from Windows 2000, due to its awful mangling of a resonably solid code base, Microsoft would persist in attempting to bring Windows to a unified code base.
I understand that for them it is much cheaper to have a single team working on Windows, than to maintain different versions for their professional audience as well as their consumer space, but they really should look at some real-world use cases. In almost all of the corporate environments where Windows XP Professional is used, the individuals using those workstations almost always change the interface back to the old Windows 2000 look. They are doing this because the visual clutter associated with Windows XP is apalling. I remember the first time I installed XP and showed it to some friends, they told me that it looked like a circus and they weren't interested in it. I eventually found myself changing XP back to the old look, before switching completely to the Macintosh platform.
Microsoft would be well served to rethink their position on the combining of their “professional” and “home” code. I know that there is a “Home” version of XP that is awful, and there is a “Professional” version that is just bad. For the remaining PCs that I own, and I own many, I have reverted all of them to Windows 2000 because I am a developer. I want my software to work and I don't need a bunch of visual garbage.
Most people would then ask, “Why did you switch to OS X then?” Apple's visual garbage is not in my way. There aren't wizards to attempt to do every little thing for me and it doesn't hide icons or settings in little acordians making things hard for me as a user. Everything is where I need it or where I expect for it to be, and they don't change that. Windows 2000 was the same way. It is rock solid, I have maybe half of the crashes with 2000 that I have with XP, and I think much of that is due to Microsoft still trying to support software that ran on Windows 95. Microsoft should go back to peddling their buggy user-friendly code to consumers for $79.99, and give the solid consistent no-nonsense code to businesses for $299.99. Its more expensive, but which is better saving 2 million dollars on revenues of 3 million, or spending 17 million dollars on revenues of 100 million, and re-establishing your reputation. I think any businessperson with half a head on their shoulders would figure out that the latter is the way to go.
Perhaps the Department of Justice had something when they suggested that Microsoft split up. I think it would have made the company a lot stronger, and that Microsoft should pursue this course of action of its own volition. They should spin off their search, home OS, professional OS, and office divisions into their own pseudo-corporations with budgets and little to no interference from the top. These modules should be able to come up with their own software and product agendas, and be able to act more independently. Then perhaps Microsoft would get back the innovative scrappy spirit that made it what it is. The home group could develop a killer version of Windows that worked with the XBox in some previously unimagined configuration that would revolutionize home entertainment, and it would work with everything under the sun. Maybe for kicks it could even be stable and in true Microsoft style have a strange bulbous UI that would appeal to characters who might make cameos on the saturday morning cartoon Tokyo Pig.
Then on the other hand, they could release a slick sexy OS for business that used the 3D performance of nVidia and ATi's graphics cards for purpose and not for eye candy. The OS wouldn't be based on 10 year old technology, and it would use biometrics for security. The business OS would be focused on speed, security, and efficiency, and would be a perfect platform for software development. It would bundle IIS and the standard version of the visual studio tools. The business release would create new avenues of developemnt for Microsoft, since with these tools it would be more work to badly code interface elements and other interactions with the underlying OS. It would continue in the true Windows 2000 fashion.
While all this is a dream, the reality is that “Longhorn” has too much visual garbage. The 3D, in the most recent betas, seems tacked on and is not used to any particular effect. The look of the betas is much better than Windows XP, but it is still not really dialed in. Apple did the brushed metal thing, and I am hoping that Microsoft can get a little more original than that. Apple has some three different interface looks going on in “Tiger” which is ridiculous. I have to commend the “Longhorn” UI designers on their consistency of the interface.
There is no reason for businesses to upgrade to “Longhorn” since the hardware requirements to get it to be any different from Windows XP will not be worth it. Microsoft can try to release Office to require users to upgrade, but they haven't really innovated in this space since Office 2000 anyway so that won't work. What they really need to do is to get the OS figured out in tandem with some new really cool way for their customers to work. If they can not do this they'll figure out the hard way that business users are pretty happy with what they've got and Redmond isn't releasing anything that makes them want to change. This is the core problem, and it has a lot to do with the compatability garbage built into Windows XP Pro and Home. On paper, Microsoft is way out front, but in reality Bill Gates is right, any kid anywhere in their garage can put Microsoft out of business. At least he still has the sense to know that. Hopefully he can inspire that same level of paranoia in his team, or it will be a long ugly decay for Microsoft, and all those little companies they stepped on heading up will have fun picking at their bones on the way down.