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After backing off, way off, from Longhorn, Microsoft is once more making noise about how wonderful the next generation of Windows will be.

Yeah. Right.

I’ll believe it when the boys from Redmond ship it. Even after Longhorn’s been gutted of its most innovative feature—WinFS (Windows File System)—I really doubt that Microsoft will make its latest Longhorn RTM (release to manufacturing) target of 2006’s holiday season.

Think about it: We haven’t even seen a Longhorn alpha since WinHEC 2004. Keep in mind that that alpha came about before Microsoft started axing features, so you can see why I have serious doubts about seeing Longhorn any time before 2007.

Besides, even if we knew to the day when Longhorn would appear, we don’t have time to worry about it.

Why? Because officially mainstream support for Windows 2000, both Professional and Server, ends on June 30. I don’t know about your customers, but when I talked to a group of CIOs and CTOs last week in Atlanta, more than half of them were still running tens of thousands of W2K desktops.

The writing has been on the wall since Microsoft canceled W2K Service Patch 5 last November.

Microsoft has also been making it clear for some time now that XP, not W2K, is going to get the lion’s share of attention and improvements. For example, we now know that the security improvements in XP SP2 will not be making it into W2K.

Still, I don’t know about you, but I was startled to realize just how close the end of the line is for W2K.

So it is that we need to start working now, not tomorrow, on getting new desktops to your customers.

With Longhorn coming out God-knows-when, you might want to consider non-Microsoft alternatives. Apple’s forthcoming Tiger, for example, is going to be arriving a lot sooner than Longhorn.

I’ve often heard arguments comparing Longhorn and Tiger. I don’t get these. One’s here, the other isn’t. Which are your customers going to buy today?

The Linux desktop market is also getting a lot more interesting to business customers. Novell Linux Desktop, for example, combines certification, an outstanding thin desktop, excellent network manageability and a channel-partner-friendly vendor
into one very attractive reseller package.

Click here to read eWEEK Labs’ review of Novell Linux Desktop 9.

Even Microsoft doesn’t seem to want you to really talk up Longhorn. Otherwise, why would the company have revived its “XP Reloaded” campaign with a new coat of paint: “Start Something”?

“Start Something’s” details are a little sketchy, but we do know that Microsoft will be spending a ton of money in an advertising campaign that’s going to hit print, online, TV and retail channels for at least 15 months. It also appears that Microsoft is going to be reaching out beyond the usual advertisement venues to reach customers who ordinary couldn’t tell an operating system from an operating theater.

The theme of “Start Something” is to get people excited about all the things they are passionate about that is made possible with Windows. The ads will point users to the “Start Something” site.

Unfortunately for Microsoft partners, this is a very consumer-oriented site. Customers who follow the links will find themselves going to Windows Marketplace. From there they’ll find links to online vendors for HP iPaqs and Digital Network’s Rio Carbon MP3 player.

In short, this campaign is meant for affluent individuals, not the corporate customers that resellers need.

Well, with or without Microsoft marketing help, we’ve got to do something for our business desktop customers. Whether it’s XP, Macintoshes, thin clients or Linux, the W2K clock is ticking and we need to act now. Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about operating systems since the late ’80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.