Microsoft: Not Ready for Prime Time

Microsoft’s recent announcement that consumer versions of its next-generation version of Windows would not hit the market until January 2007, dashed plans that it would be on PCs for sale during the 2006 end-of-year holiday season.

However, Microsoft detailed its road map plans for Vista and said it is on target to go into broad consumer beta testing to approximately two million users in the second quarter of 2006.

Jim Allchin, Microsoft’s outgoing co-president of Microsoft’s platforms and services division, stressed that Vista would be completed this year and available for businesses. “We decided to make it directly available in November via our volume licensing programming,” he said, with “broad consumer and PC availability in January, 2007.”

Some customers lined up to support the move, despite the fact that Vista will miss the 2006 delivery that had been promised by Microsoft. “We strongly support Microsoft’s decision to prioritize quality in determining the schedule for Windows Vista,” said Todd Bradley, executive vice president of the Personal Systems Group at Hewlett Packard, in a statement.

“A January launch of Windows Vista allows us to execute in a consistent way throughout the holidays and will provide the right opportunity for a large, exciting launch industry-wide after the New Year.”

But while Microsoft may have the public support of its partners, some analysts say there is undoubtedly disappointment. “Today’s delay will be a blow to many Microsoft partners,” said Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox. “They won’t have Windows Vista to sell during the holiday sales season or the benefits of the big marketing push. Microsoft finished Windows XP in August 2001 and launched in October. That’s what it takes to make the holidays.” (The same company that owns Jupiter Research owns

Allchin stressed Microsoft could have shipped the consumer version this year, albeit a few weeks late. But he said Microsoft anticipates a few weeks delay polishing security and other features, and because of that, certain retail and OEM partners asked to push the whole consumer release to January. The reason? Many retailers could face logistical problems with, for example, new PCs with Vista arriving at the height of holiday sales and having to accommodate for the sudden influx of new inventory. Also new PCs shipped from overseas might not arrive in time — dashing holiday sales expectations.

“For quality sake, we’re moving a few weeks out and that puts some of our partners in the industry at a disadvantage,” said Allchin. “We decided not to do that.” He said the January release will insure “a great out-of-box experience and get all of our partners prepared at same time.”

Although Allchin characterized the January release for consumers, he conceded the delay also affects small business owners looking to adopt the new OS, basically anyone that buys it retail or expects to get it with a new PC. Microsoft is planning six different versions of Vista. He declined to say whether Microsoft might offer an upgrade voucher of some sort to Vista for those buying PCs this fall. “We’ll provide more details later,” he said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if people end up saying — once they see the next test release — ‘Why didn’t you ship that, it’s good enough,'” said Allchin. “But we want to be sure we have the appropriate drivers ready and all the testing done. If I had to pick one aspect of the [delay] it’s because we’re trying to crank the security level higher than ever.”

More Delays
In other Microsoft news, the company has also decided to delay the release of Office 2007 With Vista

Microsoft said Office 2007 would be delayed until next year, a move that coincides with the delay of the highly anticipated Windows Vista operating system. The software giant had originally planned to make Office 2007 and Vista available concurrently in the fourth quarter in late 2006.

The announcement is the latest blow to Microsoft’s product schedule that has the tech industry abuzz. Microsoft said in a statement it now hopes to finish the code for Office 2007 this October and make it available to the business customers through the volume-licensing program in October 2006. The finished Office 2007 will roll it out at the same time Vista hits retail store shelves in January 2007.

Previously known as Office 12, Office 2007 is expected to have an increased emphasis on collaboration and sharing to render a workplace more productive. The enterprise version of the software will include a new interface, Microsoft Office Communicator, a corporate instant messaging application; collaboration application Office Groove 2007; and Office OneNote 2007, which is expected to replace Outlook’s e-mail and calendar features.

The double delays of Vista and Office 2007 highlight just how intertwined the products are, in terms of Microsoft’s philosophy to deliver a more complete user experience. The logic in some circles is that, if Vista is delayed, Microsoft might as well hold Office 2007 to improve it even more.

Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox said in his Microsoft Monitor blog that he wouldn’t even consider the Office 2007 delay, well, a delay. “Microsoft’s Office nomenclature already tipped off a late-year release,” Wilcox said. “Microsoft has a naming convention for what’s 2006 or 2007. The alignment with Windows Vista makes sense. My expectation is a convergence around Windows Live, Office Live, Windows Vista and Office 2007.”

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