New Windows launch delayed

22 Mar 2006

UPDATE: Vista won’t be on consumer PCs in time for Christmas as Microsoft has confirmed that the next generation of its Windows operating system (OS) will not begin shipping to the mass market until January of next year. However, the business versions are due to be available this November.

At a media preview in Dublin earlier this month Microsoft didn’t commit to a final launch date for Vista but suggested it would be released in the second half of the year. The operating system is believed to be “feature complete” and is currently in bug testing phase.

In total there will be six new versions of the new OS: Vista Business and Vista Enterprise for business customers, as well as three consumer versions; Vista Home Basic, Vista Home Premium and Vista Ultimate. There will also be an OS intended for emerging markets, Vista Starter.

Mike Hughes, security and platform strategy manager with Microsoft Ireland, said that there was a narrow window of time in which Vista could be supplied to PC manufacturers in time to ship systems for the Christmas market. “The issue is really around being able to deliver a product that is of high enough quality for OEMs [original equipment manufacturers],” he told “Rather than mess with their schedules we decided to delay it.”

Hughes said that the business versions are not sold via the OEM channel, which is why Microsoft volume licensing customers can begin receiving Windows Vista beginning in November of this year. This covers large enterprises down to any business with five PCs or more. Availability for consumers and on new PCs will follow in January.

In a conference call, Jim Allchin, co-president for the platforms and services division at Microsoft, alluded to the work Microsoft now undertakes to try to make its software code more secure. The tradeoff for this is that the product development process now takes longer. “We won’t compromise on product quality and we needed just a few more weeks,” he said. “The balance between usability and security is a tricky one.”

The decision to push out the consumer launch until the new year was taken yesterday. According to Hughes, no single feature or problem caused the change. “It wasn’t a technical glitch or anything like that,” he said. Internally, Microsoft now prepares software code based on meeting quality levels based on customer feedback rather than making an arbitrary deadline, he added.

David Bradshaw, principal analyst at Ovum in the UK, said the news was not unexpected as Vista had been postponed before but this latest delay “does look like a serious embarrassment to Microsoft”.

“The decision to delay to the consumer versions rather than the business versions seems odd in commercial terms, and therefore has to be technical,” he said, predicting that it would lead to a potentially large reduction in consumer sales over the holiday period and pointing out that business spending is not as seasonal.

Bradshaw also noted the large PC manufacturers’ “surprising” public comments seeming to make light of the delay. “We suspect that their private comments to Microsoft will have been very, very different,” he said.

By Gordon Smith