For Vista, a few extra months can only help

Microsoft says Windows Vista will be out in January 2007, a month later than the previously announced target date. So why should we believe them this time? Maybe because they put an actual date on the schedule for the first time ever?
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

I am relieved, greatly, that Microsoft decided to push off the release of Windows Vista by approximately three months. First, because it means that we’ll have the time to do a proper job on Windows Vista Inside Out. Second, because it increases the likelihood that Vista will be a solid release instead of a shrink-wrapped final beta.

Wiley book publisher Joe Wikert has an interesting theory about Windows release dates:

You're no doubt familiar with Moore's Law and how it explains how processing power roughly doubles every 18 months. I have a completely separate theory I like to call "Microsoft's Law". It states that you cannot lock down on a major product release unless the projected release date is within the next 6 months. In this case, the previous projection was that Vista would release by the end of the year, or approximately 9 months from now. That's beyond the 6 month window of "Microsoft's Law", so it shouldn't surprise anyone that it's been further delayed. In fact, if January remains the official target release date, we can't be assured it will stick until we're within 6 months of then, or till approximately 7/31; if they're still calling it a January release by 7/31, "Microsoft's Law" says you can feel pretty confident it will hit.

I have a different theory: Don’t trust any announced ship schedule from Microsoft until an actual date has been put on it. “We’re confident that we can deliver a quality product in the second half of this year” does not qualify. “Retail availability in January 2007” does. The spin factor is up around 11 in the official Microsoft press release, but what I’ve seen says they can hit this new date. If they didn’t believe that was possible, Jim Allchin would have announced that the ship date had ben put off until the first half of 2007. Know what I mean?

Microsoft says “business availability” of Windows Vista will be in November, with “consumer availability” in January 2007. Dwight Silverman draws the wrong inference from this two-phase release schedule:

Managing a two-part release -- businesses in November/December, consumer in January -- will be difficult. How many consumers will jump the gun and try to get their hands on the business version?

And since Vista will include the ability to upgrade itself via download, will consumers be able to start out with the business version -- which likely will be stripped of Media Center and other entertainment features -- and then later convert?

It won’t be possible to sign off on one of the eight (or seven, or five, depending on how you look at it) Windows Vista SKUs without signing off on all of them. The so-called business release is almost certainly the Enterprise Edition, which includes every available Windows feature and is essentially identical to the retail Ultimate Edition. That November date is most likely when the “golden masters” are scheduled to be signed off and begin being distributed en masse to OEM PC makers and corporate customers. And within 24 hours of that final sign-off, you can bet that bootleg copies of the Vista code will be burning on the BitTorrent networks as fast as the official DVD pressing plants.

The irony, of course, is that most corporate customers have no interest in being on the bleeding edge of a new operating system. They’re especially not interested in undertaking a mass software deployment during the holiday season, when the people using the PCs and the people managing the deployment are attending parties, taking time off, and generally distracted from work.

A November release date allows the project to squeak in under the original deadline, just in time for Allchin’s retirement party. Whether they can sell lots of copies will be someone else’s job, in 2007.

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