Analysts split over Vista launch date

Goldman Sachs predicts Vista will ship on time, but Gartner paints a more cautious picture
Written by Colin Barker, Contributor

Microsoft is on track to ship Windows Vista to businesses in November and to consumers in January, according to investment bank Goldman Sachs.

Goldman Sachs analyst Rick Sherlund circulated a note to clients on Wednesday saying that the final Beta test version of Windows Vista will be sent out later this week, leaving Microsoft set to hit its end-of-year deadline.

"We had been sceptical of the launch schedule, but the team seems to be making great progress in addressing issues of performance, reliability and compatibility," wrote Sherlund, according to Reuters.

But analysts at Gartner believe Microsoft could benefit by delaying Vista until next Easter.

Gartner took issue with the timing of the Vista launch earlier this year, suggesting that ideally it should have been out in plenty of time for the crucial Christmas market. In response, Sherlund said that the suggestion that Microsoft will offer coupons that PC makers can give away for a free upgrade to Vista may help here.

"This might help offset the apprehensions in the industry that the January launch of Vista ... will negatively affect PC demand in the seasonally strongest holiday quarter as consumers hold off for the new product," Sherlund wrote.

Gartner also argued in September that a number of factors make it more likely that Microsoft may delay the launch of Vista until at least May next year.

The reservations were laid out in a research note, Events aligning to make Vista delay more likely, and take in market, political and industry issues that the researcher said are beginning to stack up against Microsoft. The most significant is the ongoing legal battles between Microsoft and the European Commission.

Both Gartner and Goldman Sachs broadly agree that there is no technical reason why Vista should be delayed and that the software is ready to roll at the end of the year. Any divergence comes around issues like the role of the EC.

On Wednesday it emerged that Microsoft has appealed against the €280m fine imposed by the European Commission in July this year because the software giant failed to comply with the landmark 2004 antitrust ruling.

A delay for Vista now would be convenient for Microsoft, Gartner analyst David Mitchell-Smith argued, because "when people start complaining about the delay, Microsoft can reasonably say 'don't blame us' and point the finger at the EC".

Microsoft is "probably getting a bit tired" of the EU's stance, suggested Mitchell-Smith. "It's not unreasonable to think so."

Mitchell-Smith also suggested that Microsoft wants to avoid further litigation, as it is already facing actions from Symantec and Adobe.

"While it would go far to settle corporate lawsuits", Mitchell-Smith argued, "it is less likely to be able to resolve legal action by the EC as easily".

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