Microsoft's Vista appears to be off schedule

Despite claims by Microsoft during a Tuesday conference call that Windows Vista is on schedule, a presentation given to partners just last month shows otherwise.

On Oct. 7, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made a keynote speech to a group of partners in Ireland. Included in that meeting was a presentation by Maurice Martin, developer and platform group lead at Microsoft Ireland, that included a slide showing the Windows Vista Beta 2 slotted for a December 2005 release.

The slide also shows that the final release of Windows Vista is slated for summer of 2006. The presentation was called "Marketing Plans and Overview FY06" and is available at the bottom of this page on the Microsoft Web site.

On Tuesday, Microsoft held two conference calls, one with developers and one with media and analysts, to discuss the progress of Vista, the engineering process used to develop the client operating system, and the community technology previews (CTP) used to gather feedback.

During the call Amitabh Srivastava, a corporate vice president in Microsoft's Windows unit, said Microsoft had not announced publicly what the Beta 2 shipment date would be.

"At this point we are not making any announcements on what the date for Beta 2 will be," he said. "Beginning early next year we will be making more announcements and telling you more about when to expect the beta to be out."

The statements conflict with what Microsoft was telling partners just last month. Srivastava also said the general availability for Vista would be in the second half a 2006, which appears to be a wavering on the summer 2006 commitment.

The fact that Microsoft made its December and summer statements to partners is significant, observers say.

"We are awfully late in the process [of developing Vista] for there to be uncertainty in the dates, at least for the partners," says Joe Wilcox, a senior analyst for Jupiter Research. "If you are developing software or building computers you kind of need to know where Vista is and where it is going to be. Yesterday's call created more uncertainty then ever where Vista is."

Wilcox also says the uncertainty is significant for corporate users. He said that the corporate world is at the tail end of a major upgrade cycle that has big businesses making buying decisions now.

"A December Beta 2 would have been a strong indication of a potentially earlier release of Vista and for some businesses maybe a reason to wait longer on those upgrades. From my perspective, it is like NASA trying to launch a rocket to the moon, you have a launch window and Microsoft missed the window with Vista."

While Microsoft did not definitively address the Vista roadmap in its Tuesday conference call, it did say that changes in the engineering process and its CTP program have helped it make significant strides toward completing Vista.

But even that created some confusion.

The company said a feature-complete version of Vista would be available early next year, but did not say exactly when. It also did not clarify what the feature set would include or exclude, given that a number of features have already been dropped to speed up development.

And despite characterizing the CTP program, which was introduced in September as a monthly release of new code, as instrumental in accelerating development of Vista, Microsoft cancelled the planned November CTP and the monthly schedule of releases. A December CTP is scheduled, which Srivastava said would contain significantly more features than the October CTP release but he did not offer details.

Srivastava said the shift away from the monthly schedule means that development will be driven more by quality than by the calendar.

"Beta 2 is still an important milestone for broad customer testing, but it is less urgent because of our engineering process and the early CTP feedback," said Srivastava.

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John Fontana

Network World (US online)
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