January 30, 2004 spout

Betting on Longhorn-Only?

Friday, January 30th, 2004

In response to my post yesterday (When In Doubt, Ignore Longhorn), Shaun asked whether he should be targeting Longhorn-only right now:

[ed: the following has been edited to remove identifying remarks at Shaun’s request]

Thanks for all the great posts and community participation over the past year. Your recent ‘Ignore Longhorn’ post alarmed me a bit. I hope that was not born from some aspect of it being pushed past 2006.

Anyway, I know you are busy, so I will get to the point. We are mid-sized, established s/w company, and a Microsoft shop to the core (SQL Server, Analysis Services, VB, we embed VBA etc…). I am facing a huge decision regarding building our next gen app architecture. We need to ship in 1H 2006, and (IMO) we need to target rich and reach, so Longhorn is on my list of possible directions along with some ASP.NET 2.0 / ClickOnce combination.

I am enjoying working with Longhorn (XAML in particular), but I’m having a hard time shaking the feeling that I am taking too much of a gamble if I go Longhorn-Only, but some of the aspects are just so compelling. On the other hand, I’d hate to make a huge 2-3 year dev investment in ASP.NET only to ship something in 2006 that is not revolutionary/differentiated. I firmly believe our existing 3 million lines of solid COM code has plenty of life in it too.

Any insight or advice you might have would be greatly appreciated. I know it is probably difficult without understanding our company or market, but maybe some general advice to someone who is targeting a 2006 release. I guess my other worry surrounds the Longhorn adoption rate, but obviously none of us can predict that!

Here was my answer:

Shaun, if you think that Longhorn is going to help you build a differentiated product that’ll help you be more successful, then great! That’s why we’re building it.

On the other hand, if I were you, I wouldn’t put all my money into a single investment. Instead, I’d use some diversification strategies like you would with your financial portfolio. At this point, the ship date of Longhorn, along with the list of features it will support when it ships, is merely speculative. I won’t put more than 10% of my available investment time/money/staff into it, leaving the rest of my portfolio for getting the most I can from my existing and/or near future technologies.

Specifically, you ask about ASP.NET 2.0 and Windows Forms/ClickOnce. Both of those technologies rock. ASP.NET is going to be the way to build web sites and services for the next decade at least, even after Longhorn’s been out for years, since it has the reach across our existing OSes and competing OSes. Plus, ASP.NET 2.0 has a dizzying list of new features that people will spend years just taking full advantage of. For reach, you can’t make a better investment than ASP.NET.

For rich, on the other hand, Windows Forms + ClickOnce is a killer combo. The updated Windows Forms in Whidbey along provides some amazing new capabilities, not the least of which is the new GridView, which you can read about in Michael’s new Wonders of Windows Forms piece. Also, look for a What’s New in Whidbey Windows Forms” piece in MSDN Magazine RSN. ClickOnce (which you can learn more about in Duncan’s ClickOnce piece and in Jamie’s ClickOnce talk) is the way to deploy rich clients in Whidbey and in Longhorn, so digging into that technology is a very good idea.

As time goes on and Longhorn becomes a more solid development investment, you should put more of your portfolio into it. If you’ve got plenty of time/money/staff, than 10% now could mean an entire pilot project in Longhorn, which would be a good thing. But if you’ve got limited amounts of time/money/staff that you really need to yield a dividend now, Longhorn is dangerous for you and should only be something you dabble with at this point.

For you specifically, a mid-sized company, you should carve off a chunk of your dev. staff to build a pilot in Longhorn. This lets you dabble while the rest of your staff is busy with existing and near future technologies. And as you dabble and notice things that don’t work at all as you expect or need, let us know! Operators are standing by to take your calls! We’re at a stage in our development process where we’re able to give much more attention to the fundamentals than we will be at beta, so the 10% you put into Longhorn now could yield large dividends in the future.

And as to your follow up comment, I’m happy that you enjoyed my response, but I’m pretty sure an autograph from Sting would be cooler. : )