As it enters the last mile of the Vista development marathon, Microsoft is turning its attention to two key areas: building momentum behind new applications and trying to avoid incompatibilities.
There may still be some doubt about the exact launch date of Windows Vista, but Microsoft insists it is imminent — and is urging developers to get on board.
That's the theme of an open letter to developers from Jim Allchin, Microsoft's co-president for platforms and services, published on the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) Vista site last week.
Allchin held out the carrot of the massive opportunities that the new operating system will bring, but also warned developers that they could find Vista breaks their products.
"If you want to ride the wave we're creating with Windows Vista, the best way is to have your application ready by the time we ship. And that is very soon," Allchin wrote.
The letter's publication coincided with the arrival of a Microsoft-commissioned IDC study, which outlined the immense ecosystem of software developers and IT professionals based on Windows in Europe. The new version will create 50,000 jobs on top of the growth of another 50,000 that would have been added to the Windows economy even without an update, IDC claimed.
Allchin's comments also follow on the heels of years of delays to Vista, which will add up to a gap of more than five years since the launch of its predecessor, Windows XP. Most recently, industry observers have discussed the likelihood of further delays caused by bug-fixing or EU antitrust issues.
However, Allchin said he's confident Vista will meet its latest launch date. "Barring any unforeseen quality issues such as bugs around data corruption, resiliency, or security, we remain on track for business availability of Windows Vista later this year, with our consumer launch in January," he wrote.
Microsoft most recently launched Vista Release Candidate 1, which ZDNet UK's preview found still felt "unbaked" in places.
Allchin highlighted the developer opportunities presented by Vista's new features and its expected rapid growth. He said 200 million users were expected to be on the system within two years of launch, and said more than 1,000 developers have joined Microsoft's early adopter programmes.
"Windows Vista is going to give you, developers, new opportunities on a scale you haven't seen since Windows 95," Allchin wrote. "We're rapidly approaching launch, and then millions of people will be looking for applications."
Significant improvements to the .NET Framework 3.0 and traditional Win32 APIs will give developers new technologies to play with, Allchin said. The company has highlighted some of the results on a preview site.
On the other hand, Vista will make significant changes, which could break existing applications, Allchin warned. User Access Control, for one, is expected to change the user experience significantly, though Microsoft has toned it down in the latest release.
"We have made tremendous investments in Windows Vista to ensure backwards compatibility, but some of the system enhancements, such as User Access Control, changes to the networking stack and the new graphics model, may require code changes on your part. You should work hard to run as standard user," Allchin wrote. He outlined several tools that can help fix applications before Vista breaks them.
Speaking at the Gartner Security Summit on Monday, Bob Gleichauf, the chief technology officer of Cisco's security technology group, said integrating Vista into a complex IT infrastructure could present problems.
"Vista will solve a lot of problems, but for every action, there's a reaction, and unforeseen side-effects and mutations. Networks can become more brittle unintentionally," said Gleichauf.
ZDNet UK's Tom Espiner contributed to this report.