The successor to Windows XP (due in 2004, and rapidly slipping to 2005) is currently code named Longhorn, and it will not be compatible with your existing software, hardware or methods. Microsoft has already stated that backward compatibility will not be a design feature.
Some expect the name Windows will be dropped completely. The antitrust agreement with the Bush DoJ specifically states "Microsoft Windows" throughout. By maintaining incompatibility (already planned due to design considerations), making it look different and calling it something else, Microsoft can free itself from antitrust oversight. "It's not Windows, it's a different product - the agreement doesn't apply."
It would seem (yet again) that Microsoft is taking its cues from Apple. Forfeit backwards compatibility for the sake of progress, you say? I hadn’t heard that before. I hope, at least, that MS has the nounce to include Windows emulation software in Longhorn (again, as Apple did with its “Classic” emulator) or about 79% of the world’s computer users will be finding themselves very, very pissed off.
One has to wonder whether the gambit will pay off. I’ve been thinking for a while now that the reason such a great percentage of users stick with MS Windows (aside from the fact that the hardware is cheaper and the OS is easily pirated) is familiarity. What happens when that familiarity is taken away? If, as the article speculates, Microsoft is removing all recognizable Windows trademarks from Longhorn to dupe the Department of Justice, what exactly will this OS look like? Will Alt-F4 still quit a program? Will there be a Start Menu, or even a Task Bar?
In the face of such extreme change, facing some hefty upgrade costs (new hardware, peripherals, and software), will the public stick with Microsoft? Or will they migrate? Linux and Mac OS could be seeing some major population growth in the coming years. I guess we can only wait and see.