US Report: NT 5.0 readied for early takeoff?

Code name clues and developer promises point to the possibility of a spring launch for NT 5.0.

Office pool participants and top market researchers may have NT 5.0 pegged for a year 2000 launch, but Microsoft has begun telling its development partners that all signals are go for a Q1 1999 delivery.

The shift in Microsoft's NT 5.0 timetable is just the latest in a series of delivery promises and date misses. Last week at the Intel Developers Forum in California, Microsoft officials said NT 5.0 Beta 3 could hit by Thanksgiving, with final code delivery possible 12 to 15 weeks after that, according to conference attendees. That would create the possibility of a late Q1 or early Q2 launch.

Most industry watchers have been predicting Beta 3 won't be ready for testing until mid-1999, with final NT 5.0 delivery slated for late 1999. GartnerGroup issued a report earlier this summer that predicted NT 5.0 will not launch until sometime in the year 2000. Gartner has been telling its clients for nearly a year to hold off on NT deployments until they have dealt with Year 2000 bugs and Euro currency conversion changes, suggesting most IT shops would do well to wait until NT 5.0 Service Pack 1 hits before moving to the new operating system.

Publicly, Microsoft officials are continuing to caution developers, resellers and customers not to expect NT 5.0 to be commercially available for another year at the earliest. But privately, Microsoft started telling developers two weeks ago that Beta 3 could make it out by Thanksgiving, with release candidates for the final product showing up by next spring. "The information you hear about Microsoft trying to get NT 5.0 out early is true," said one Microsoft development partner, who requested anonymity. "They've told developers we need to have our final NT 5.0 products done by March 1."

Microsoft officials refused to comment on any changes in the NT 5.0 timetable. A spokesperson said that Microsoft continued to hold to the party line that NT 5.0 will ship when it's ready. However, there are other signs that NT 5.0 could be closer than expected. For one, code names and promises for post-NT 5.0 technologies have begun leaking en masse from Microsoft. Some see the early appearance of information on the next round of Microsoft operating system and BackOffice products as little more than the usual vapourware creep. But other industry watchers are interpreting the spread of information on these next-generation products as a sign that NT 5.0 may be closer than many think.

Microsoft has begun selectively spreading the word to its reseller and developer partners about NT 5.0 service pack 1, code named Asteroid; NT 6.0, code-named Janus; SNA Server 3.0, code-named Babylon; Proxy Server 3.0, code-named Comet; and a future user-interface prototype technology, which could be integrated into NT 6.0 Consumer or a later release, code-named Neptune. According to current timetables, Babylon and Comet both could go into early beta test before the end of this year, according to reseller sources. "Microsoft is about to wire down some of the capabilities of the future releases," said a source close to the company who requested anonymity. "That will happen over the next few months. Today, many piece projects (e.g., forms, storage, graphics, programming model, etc.) are all underway, but they are not tied to a delivery vehicle yet."

Microsoft last week paved the groundwork for resellers to be able to provide services and support for NT 5.0 Beta 3 by starting to ship its NT 5.0 Channel Readiness Kit to 25,000 VARs, integrators and other partners. Microsoft also is putting the finishing touches on new NT 5.0 training curriculum materials due to ship later this month. The NT 5.0 Channel Readiness Kit includes information on NT 4.0-to-5.0 migration planning and training options, as well as NT 5.0 beta 2 software; deployment aids and relevant white papers.

While Microsoft has declined consistently to provide any timing details for Beta 3, officials have promised it will go to far more than the nearly 300,000 customers and partners who received Beta 2 in August. In fact, anyone willing to pay for CD shipping and handling will be able to get NT 5.0 Beta 3, officials have said.