Andy Patrizio at InternetNews.com has raised some eyebrows with his report that an “internal calendar” at Microsoft has June 3, 2009 as the planned release date for Windows 7.
That actually sounds pretty reasonable to me. Earlier this year, in my Windows 7 release date prediction pool, I picked July 29, 2009 as the date when I expected Windows 7 to go gold, and a pair of commenters on that thread picked June 1 and June 6, putting them in the catbird seat if this latest report is correct and Microsoft can stick to that schedule. (The consensus among pool participants after five weeks of voting was September 30, 2009.)
My colleague and ace Windows-watcher Mary Jo Foley reported last week that Microsoft is planning to make Beta 1 of Windows 7 available in mid-December. The InternetNews.com report suggests that a beta release (not necessarily Beta 1) will be handed out on October 27, 2008, the first day of the Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles. Paul Thurrott has a similar report, adding that Windows 7 Build 6780 is being targeted for PDC; Thurrott says this build is referred to internally as M3 (for “milestone 3”) and is currently being tested by Microsoft employees and among close partners.
If the June date is accurate, isn’t that an awfully compressed beta cycle?
It is indeed.
I assume those internal calendars are targeting the release to manufacturing (RTM) date for Windows 7. That would mean a beta cycle of roughly six or seven months. By contrast, XP went from Beta 1 to RTM in nine months, and the messy Windows Vista development effort took 15 months to go from Beta 1 to RTM, with a total of 11 Customer Technology Program (CTP) builds and interim releases in addition to Beta 2 and two release candidates along the way.
Anyone who expects that the Windows 7 beta program will be run like its Windows Vista predecessor needs to do a hard reset. Both XP and Vista were developed under the leadership of Jim Allchin, who’s now out of the picture. But can new Windows boss Steven Sinofsky crank the engine this fast without blowing things up? Perhaps. We’ll have a pretty good indication when we see what Microsoft shows off at PDC. If the PDC code is feature complete and stable, that would a strong indicator that the upcoming Beta 1 release will be more like what we’ve come to expect from a Beta 2 in previous development cycles.
And even if the June 3 date turns out to be on the money, this schedule would be downright leisurely compared to the one Microsoft followed for Windows XP, which was launched in October 2001, only 20 months after its predecessor, Windows 2000. As I noted earlier this year, Windows 2000 “went through the longest development cycle of any Microsoft operating system release ever.” Windows XP used the same basic driver model, file system, and security architecture as Windows 2000, adding usability improvements and and the now-familiar “Luna”-themed XP interface. That's a pretty good description of how I expect Windows 7 to differ from Vista.
A June 3 release date would be 855 days after the January 30, 2007 consumer launch of Windows Vista, well within the normal range for a new Windows release. (See these two charts for graphical evidence.) Aggressive? Yes. Impossible? Not at all.
For Windows 7, I expect the beta pool to be far, far smaller than it was during either the Vista or XP projects, with confidentiality agreements strictly enforced, and I would be surprised to see more than four widely released builds before RTM.