Microsoft officials are finally admitting what many company watchers, customers and partners have known for a while: Windows 7 is going to ship in 2009.
Specifically, Windows 7 is going to be generally available in time for holiday 2009. Windows Server 2008 R2 will ship "in the same timeframe," officials are conceding.
If you're thinking you read this somewhere before you have: In late April, a senior Windows exec told Bloomberg News that shipping Windows 7 in time for the holidays was "accomplishable." On May 11, during the kick-off keynote for Microsoft's annual TechEd USA conference, the Windows team is going way out on a limb and saying they actually WILL ship Windows 7 in time for it to be preloaded on holiday PCs.
Windows client officials are still declining to provide a release-to-manufacturing (RTM) target for Windows 7. (Update: At the very end of a May 11 posting on the Engineering Windows 7 blog, the Windows 7 leaders say they're about three months from RTM as of today.) They aren't talking about when volume licensees will be able to get the bits. They still haven't acknowledged the start date for the expected free upgrade program, via which users buying new PCs will get a Windows 7 upgrade for free. (The rumored date for that is July 1, by the way.) And the Win client team is still not mentioning an actual general availability target (not even a month) or a launch date.
In many ways -- after what happened with Vista -- I can't blame Microsoft for being gun-shy about talking dates with Windows 7. After announcing it was going back to the drawing board to "reset" Longhorn (Vista) in 2004, Microsoft annnounced in early 2007 that it was not going to be able to launch Vista in time to get it preloaded on holiday PCs because it was going to miss its release-to-manufacturing (RTM) target.
(Anyone remember one former Microsoft official trying to put a good face on the delay, claiming "January has emerged as almost a second Christmas"? Yeah. And brown is the new white.)
Because Microsoft doesn't control the end-to-end development-delivery process the way Apple does, there are a lot more moving parts when a new version of Windows is set to roll. Microsoft has to (or at least, should try to) get software and hardware makers final bits early enough for them to test and tweak their products so they will be compatible with a new OS out of the gate. And Microsoft has to factor in enough time for PC makers to test and preload Windows on new PCs.
But if I use Vista as a guide, I can make some guesses.
Microsoft RTM'd the final Vista bits in early November 2006. Volume licensees were able to begin downloading Vista that same month. But because some of Microsoft's largest OEMs needed more time to do their testing/preloading -- and the Vista code base kept changing almost right up until the time the product went to manufacturing -- Microsoft couldn't "launch" Vista in time for holiday 2006. Instead, the company had to wait until its big PC partners were (relatively) ready and didn't launch the product until January 29, 2007, which was close to three months after RTM.
If I assume PC makers might only need two months or so (given that the Win 7 code base doesn't include a bunch of major changes like Vista's did) -- and a recent Acer exec's slip-up claiming Acer would be able to ship new PCs preloaded with Windows 7 by late October 2009 -- I'd say Windows 7 looks like it could RTM by late August or early September. I'm betting the "launch" will be November 2009. (Not a bad guess, given the Engineering Windows 7 post saying RTM is about three months away -- with all the usual "we won't ship until it's ready" caveats, of course.)
Even though Windows client officials like to claim that less information is more when it comes to date transparency, that's not true. I continue to get questions from readers as to whether they should hold off on buying new PCs this year in the hopes that Windows 7 machines might be available. And more than a few businesses, especially smaller ones who are still on XP, are wondering the same. But Microsoft's only guidance continues to be that businesses should move to Vista now so they can test which apps and hardware will and won't run it, so that they can move to Win 7 more easily once it is out.
So now Microsoft has committed to a specific year (and not the worst-case, "we can't miss this" 2010) as to when it will ship Windows 7. Were you already expecting and planning for it? Or does today's revelation change things for you and your business?
Update: One reader reminded me that Microsoft's pronouncement that Windows 7 will be generally available in the fourth quarter of this year means it won't be out in time for the back-to-school 2009 season. Windows 7 PCs would need to be available by August/September for that. It's hard to tell if the Windows client team is still playing its "worst-case" ship date game so that they can underpromise and overdeliver Windows 7 earlier than most are expecting. But if Microsoft really isn't going to get Windows 7 out until Q4, back-to-school preloads are out of the picture.