Microsoft's message: NT 5.0 still not ready for prime time

Microsoft crowing that it has reached a milestone for the second beta release of Windows NT 5.0, is also warning testers not to expect too much from the release.

At the NT 5.0 reviewers workshop Tuesday, officials said the company will begin shipping this week the long-awaited Beta 2 code to 45,000 technical beta sites, 25,000 channel partners and 200,000 developers via the Microsoft Developer Network program.

But executives declined to provide a Beta 3 timetable or any further information on when customers can expect to see the final NT 5.0 product. The software maker said earlier this year that it expected to deliver NT 5.0 in the first quarter of 1999. But few customers or industry observers are predicting Microsoft will ship NT 5.0 before the third quarter of next year.

Microsoft cautioned the 200 press and analysts attending Tuesday's workshop that while NT 5.0 Beta 2 is nearly 100 percent feature-complete, it is not ready for prime time. "We focused on depth, not breadth" in Beta 2, said Moshe Dunie, vice president of Microsoft's Windows Division.

Microsoft tested Beta 2 most stringently on five laptop and a few key desktop models, so many machines may not function properly with Beta 2 in terms of plug and play and power management. Officials added that certain device classes will be supported only on a limited basis in Beta 2. Windows 9X migration support will be limited in Beta 2, and Terminal Services code is alpha-quality only. Rolling cluster upgrades are not supported at all in Beta 2. Microsoft said it will broaden the Beta 3 test pool by adding a corporate review program whenever it eventually goes live with Beta 3 code.

At the workshop, Microsoft further clarified its release criteria, however, saying that, rather than shipping NT when it's ready, it won't ship the operating system until customers tell the company it's ready. Senior VP Jim Allchin noted other internal criteria that Microsoft is weighing in its NT 5.0 development and planning process.

According to Allchin, Microsoft won't ship NT 5.0 until:

  • Its Rapid Deployment Partners (top-tier NT customer and partner sites) are well on their way to deploying NT 5.0.

  • "Several" data-corruption or mission-critical show-stopper bugs are eliminated.

  • Microsoft itself has deployed NT 5.0 on 1,000 production-level servers and 20,000 desktops.

  • Internal test rates surpass those achieved by NT 4.0 in the areas of application and hardware compatibility and stress-test levels.