Why Vista may be delayed until Easter

Analysis: Analyst Gartner believes Microsoft is planning to delay its new operating system again for political rather than technical reasons

The launch of Microsoft's new Vista operating system has been a long time coming. Missing the important pre-Christmas slot earned the software company a lot of criticism from partners and customers but Microsoft has committed to shipping the OS in January. 

But now some analysts claim that a number of "events" in the IT industry have made it more likely that Microsoft may delay the launch of Vista again until at least May next year.

The reservations hinge around a research note, "Events aligning to make Vista delay more likely", published by analyst Gartner late last week, and take in market, political and industry issues that the researcher believes are beginning to stack up.

Gartner is at pains to stress that there is no technical reason it can see why Microsoft should not go ahead with launching Vista in January. The problem lies not with bug-fixing or the last-minute code glitches that normally hold back software releases — it's purely political according to Gartner.

Last week, Gartner published a research note that highlighted the "event" of 8 September, when Microsoft announced it may delay availability of Windows Vista in European Union (EU) countries due to concerns about the product's ability "to comply with European Commission (EC) antitrust regulations".

A delay for Vista now would be convenient for Microsoft, Gartner analyst David Mitchell-Smith suggests, because "when people start complaining about the delay, Microsoft can reasonably say 'don't blame us' and point the finger at the EC". Microsoft is "probably getting a bit tired" of the EU's stance, suggested Mitchell-Smith. "It's not unreasonable to think so."

Also, Microsoft wants to avoid "further litigation", the analyst argues, as it is already facing actions from Symantec/Veritas and Adobe and "while it would go far to settle corporate lawsuits", the analyst argues, "it is less likely to be able to resolve legal action by the EC as easily".

The European issue could prove very "complex" and as a result, Microsoft may delay "broad availability of Windows Vista in all markets, which aligns with Gartner's forecast that Vista will ship in 2Q07".

Microsoft could also decide "that a single code base for everyone would better serve the market and allow business customers to deploy a single image, usable in most of the world", Gartner argues.

Additionally, Microsoft could — and the analysts stress the word "could" — want to appease retailers who may struggle to get Vista into shops for the crucial Christmas period. Holding over until Easter may also be a welcome idea.

According to Gartner, these factors "create an air of reasonable doubt that may serve to prepare the market for the potential eventuality of a slip".

Another issue could be the overall state of the PC market. Last week, Gartner made one of its gloomiest predictions yet on the overall state of the PC market, saying that while worldwide PC shipments are "on pace" to increase by 10.5 percent to 233.7 million units in 2006, worldwide PC revenue is expected to decline by 2.5 percent to $198.3bn.

Gartner blames continuing price sensitivity in the market for the decline. "Unit growth will continue to be price driven for the next several quarters as PC replacement activity wanes and the battle between Intel and AMD escalates," said George Shiffler, research director for Gartner Dataquest's Client Platforms group.

And if the industry is expecting a shot in the arm from the imminent arrival of Vista, which is expected in the first quarter of next year, it should think again, according to Shiffler. "Vista's eventual release next year could stimulate some added growth," said Shiffler, "but we remain sceptical of Vista's impact".