Microsoft’s Software Strategy has an analysis of Microsoft’s plans for Longhorn and how it views the future, asking: “Is Microsoft’s new version of Windows a radical innovation or a return to the company’s winner-take-all software strategy from a decade ago?” because all of the new features in the forthcoming OS “come at a price: Most can be used only through client software that’s designed specifically for the new system.” This marks a return to the “fat client” strategy, eschewing the browser-HTML world.

The result would be “increased lock-in to Windows,” said Michael Silver, an analyst at market research firm Gartner. “Microsoft wants enterprises to write browser applications that take advantage of Longhorn application programming interfaces (APIs), which means that they won’t work on non-Longhorn browsers,” Silver wrote.

With Longhorn, some industry veterans believe, Microsoft is attempting to steer software development back toward the Windows desktop and away from software such as browser applications that can run on other companies’ OSes. Longhorn reinforces Microsoft’s commitment to the notion of powerful desktop machines that have large hard drives.

“Ultimately, we’re the company that believes in the power of the local hard disk,” said Gordon Mangione, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s SQL Server team. “It’s been the thing that has driven the PC revolution for many, many years.”

Indeed, the strategy will sound familiar to students of Microsoft’s history. Windows became the dominant OS for PCs by controlling the underlying APIs and file formats. The Internet shifted that balance of power away from the desktop by performing functions on Web servers and related technologies.

“The personal computer in less than three years will be a pretty phenomenal device,” Gates said. “Exploiting the client, delivering data in the form of XML to the client and then having local rich rendering while still being able to have mapping to HTML for reach–that’s something we’re making very simple.”

I think it will be tough sell for Microsoft – the world is a lot more wary about lock-ins now. Also, the emerging markets of the world and the next billion users need more – not less – of server-centric computing and the benefits that come from the adoption of standards.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.