Vista problems may be bigger than Microsoft admits

Beta testers said the date for release to manufacturing has been pushed back two months

More delays in the release schedule for Windows Vista hint that problems getting the operating system out the door may be broader than Microsoft Corp. has articulated.

Beta testers familiar with Microsoft's plans to release test versions of the operating system said today that although Microsoft has said Vista development has been delayed a few weeks, the date on which the operating system will be released to manufacturers has been pushed back a full two months.

Instead of reaching manufacturers on Aug. 25, as originally scheduled, Vista will now be released to them on Oct. 25, sources said. The next Community Technology Preview (CTP) release of Vista, which is the completion of the Beta 2 cycle, also has been moved to May 24 from its original release date of April 12. Similarly, the first release candidate of Vista, originally set for mid-July, is now slated for Aug. 25.

Microsoft said it is on track to release the next CTP of Vista in the second quarter but has not given a more specific date than that.

In a hastily scheduled conference call on Tuesday, Jim Allchin, co-president of Microsoft's platforms and services division, announced that the consumer versions of Vista would not ship on PCs until January 2007, though business customers would have access to Vista before the end of the year through the volume-licensing channel (see "Update: Microsoft Delays Consumer Release of Vista to January 2007").

That means Microsoft and its hardware partners will miss selling Vista PCs during the busy holiday shopping season in the U.S., between late November and late December.

Allchin characterized the delay in development as "a few weeks" on Tuesday's call. But a two-month change in the release to manufacturing of the product clearly suggests development is off track by more than that. Moreover, analysts said missing its target date for the holiday season gives Microsoft breathing room to push back Vista's release even further into 2007.

PC sales are typically slower in the first and second quarters of the year, said Joe Wilcox, an analyst at JupiterResearch. "Microsoft missed the holidays, so January might as well be July," he said.

Even a late-October release-to-manufacturing date is bumping up against a deadline for when OEMs would need Vista in order to get the system on PCs in time for January, he said.

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