Understanding Windows Vista's Delay (Yes, Another)

Understanding Windows Vista's Delay (Yes, Another).

It's true. This afternoon, Microsoft delayed Windows Vista. I won't play semantics. Microsoft can technically argue that the operating system will ship in 2006, because it will be ready for some businesses (assuming there are no more delays). But the Windows Vista consumer launch won't be until 2007. No matter how I look at it, the news is a blow to many Microsoft partners. They won't have Windows Vista to sell during the lucrative holiday sales season.

And speaking of semantics, I see today's announcement essentially meaning almost no customers will get Windows Vista in 2006–and so that's pretty much a widespread delay. While Microsoft says that Windows Vista will be available to businesses through volume licensing, the company's own financials show that only a small percentage of customers purchase that way. About 85 percent of Windows revenue came from OEM sales during Microsoft's 2006 fiscal second quarter. Most businesses buy Windows on new PCs, and these won't be coming until 2007.

So, what happened?

Back in November, I proposed a test. After announcing there would be no more monthly Windows Vista previews, Microsoft execs pronounced that development progress was ahead of schedule. I wrote that Windows XP should be the measure for development progress: “For feature-complete Windows Vista to get into the hands of testers sooner than earlier versions of the operating system, the measure is less than five months from Beta 2 to gold code…So, taking Microsoft at its word, hypothetical February 15, 2006. feature-complete Windows Vista would mean gold code release before July 15, 2006, and realistic availability on new PCs sometime in August or September 2006. I would apply the less-than-five-month measure to whatever is the feature-complete test build's release date.”

Microsoft released the feature-complete Windows Vista build on February 22, and it's now looking like completed “gold” code won't be ready until October or November (presuming no more delays). Based on today's announcement, I wouldn't characterize Windows Vista development as ahead of schedule.

During today's conference call, Windows head honcho Jim Allchin described the problem as just a few weeks, which apparently would be a few weeks too long for PC partners to get computers to market for the holidays. I can't rationalize Microsoft's reasoning. Windows XP released to manufacturing in August 2001 and launched in late October. That's what it takes to hit the holiday sales cycle. PC manufacturers typically need at least six to eight weeks more to get Windows on new PCs. Some manufacturers need even longer.

It's a couple months from November, when Microsoft says Windows Vista will be ready for some business customers, to January, when the software is available to consumers and on new PCs. Backtracking, by my reckoning, Microsoft expects to finish Windows Vista in late October or early November. Even with a few weeks consideration, I don't see how there ever would have been enough time for PC manufacturers to get Windows Vista on new systems or for Microsoft to hold a massive launch event with lots of marketing.

During today's conference call, Microsoft seemed to suggest that PC manufacturers would prefer to be ready for Windows Vista, rather than rush or get hardware out later. Based on my presumed timeline, I wouldn't say Microsoft partners really had a choice. And I can't imagine why any PC manufacturer wouldn't want to have Windows Vista systems to sell for the holidays. For if nothing else, they lose the benefit of massive Windows marketing, let alone a brand, new operating system to dress up PCs.

Colleague Michael Gartenberg is right. No one loses money, “betting against a Microsoft ship date.” For the record, in August 2004, Microsoft committed to broad availability in 2006. Apparently not.  [Microsoft Monitor]

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