The Microsoft dating game

There's definitely a move underfoot at many -- might I dare say, "most" -- divisions at Microsoft to squelch the practice of providing to the public ship-date targets by which the company may be measured. Good idea or not?

In responding to my Microsoft predictions for 2007 post earlier this week, reader PB_z raised an interesting question:

"When you say Microsoft will "slip (Visual Studio) Orcas from 2007 to 2008, (that) implies that Microsoft has already announced a 2007 release date. Have they? Can you point to that anywhere?"

PB_z is onto something here. I Googled. I Live-Searched. I I couldn't find any proof that any Microsoft official actually said the words "Orcas will ship in 2007" -- at least in an on-the-record form. (If anyone else can find such a statement, please do share!)

As I and other Microsoft watchers know quite well, Microsoft has been setting expectations since 2005 that it plans to ship the next version of Visual Studio in 2007. No one at Microsoft has sent me a nasty note when I've noted in countless articles and blog posts that Orcas is expected to be a 2007 deliverable. And if past behavior counts for anything, the Visual Studio team has been good about churning out new tool-suite releases every two years.

But there's definitely a move underfoot at many -- might I dare say,"most" -- divisions at Microsoft to squelch the practice of providing to the public ship-date targets by which the company may be measured.

Just last week at the Windows Vista/Office 2007 business launch in New York, I was told by certain Softies not to expect the Windows team to be as forthcoming as it has in the past regarding its future plans. The new motto, going forward, will be "plan first, announce intentions later."

We got an early taste of the new medicine last week, with Microsoft officials changing their tune on Vista Service Pack (SP) 1. Microsoft had been letting certain constituencies know that its plan of record was to ship SP1 simultaneously with Longhorn Server in the latter half of next year. But at last week's launch, the new Vista SP1 due date suddenly became: "Yet to be determined."

You can argue that circling the information wagons is a sound strategy (especially if you work at Microsoft). Look what happened with Longhorn/Vista. Compare the feature sets and target ship dates that Microsoft shared in 2003 to the ones it ended up delivering on in 2006. There were an awful lot of twists and turns on that path which were no doubt confusing to partners and customers.

But there's also a case to be made for publicly shared roadmaps and transparency. Microsoft customers need to be able to plan for what's coming. Hardware, software and services partners need to be in the know. Even if Microsoft says it will share privately its product roadmaps with key constituencies, how will these groups know for certain whether Microsoft is sharing the same information across its various groups?

What's your opinion, readers? Are you in favor of Microsoft clamping down on product promises (and the accompanying hype)? Or are you concerned that the free flow of information could have an adverse effect on you?


Anyone who knows me knows I am voting for Option 2. But I'll be curious to see what others think....


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