Microsoft on horns of dilemma

Will Longhorn take the blue ribbon or get slaughtered? Microsoft is banking on the former. Others aren't so sanguine.

Longhorn is the code name for the next, top-secret version of Microsoft's cash cow Windows software, a product Microsoft hopes will ring up new sales and stave off competitors such as the rival Linux operating system.

But as thousands of engineers at the company's Washington state headquarters labour to bring Longhorn to market, some in the technology industry wonder if the much-anticipated product will fall flat or possibly even die before it ever ships.

One major problem: Longhorn, envisioned as breakthrough software that could improve computer security, data storage and the look and feel of Windows, is expected to share key attributes with another operating system Microsoft tried, unsuccessfully, to launch nearly 10 years ago.

That ballyhooed project, code-named "Cairo", has been largely forgotten by all but computer cognoscenti - and the Microsoft engineers who worked on it, of course.

Cairo was once touted by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates as a radical "paradigm shift" in computing, mainly for its lofty goal of overhauling and unifying Windows' file systems.

For everyday computer users, the benefits could include being able to seamlessly search through email messages, Microsoft Word files or even internet pages in the same way, instead of using one of the many separate file systems that exist today.

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