Microsoft: No delays to Vista Beta 2, 2006 release

Redmond (WA) - Responding to press reports that interpreted Microsoft co-president Jim Allchin as saying that the planned Beta 2 release for its upcoming Windows Vista would be "skipped," a Microsoft spokesperson late yesterday officially denied that the company would be discontinuing Vista Beta 2.

That said, the company did confirm what Allchin was apparently trying to say in the first place: that the timetable for Beta 2's release had already been altered, to account for the fact that multiple types of installations - for instance, desktops, workstations, enterprise servers - would have to be managed separately. Allchin's original statement, which was an attempt to say that Microsoft would have to handle Beta 2 differently than it did Beta 1, especially in light of the fact that Beta 2's release had been scheduled for January, and it was soon becoming February.

Rather than release one build of the operating system as "Beta 2," as it did for Beta 1, Microsoft will now be releasing a number of Community Technology Previews (CTP), each geared for different classes of installations. "The CTPs are considered parts of a broader phase in the Windows Vista development process, in this case, Beta 2," the spokesperson told TG Daily. "The Beta 2 phase of Windows Vista's development will culminate with the release of another CTP in the second quarter of this calendar year."

Posters to Microsoft's technology blogs, also interpreting Allchin's comments, had recently expressed their concern that these staggered CTPs would be delivered to exclusive sets of invited participants - as they always have been - rather than to the general public. As a result, they argued, what Microsoft is now calling the "Beta 2 phase" of Vista builds is not really the same as a general public beta, such as Vista Beta 1.

Yesterday, the Microsoft spokesperson addressed that issue: "In addition to the CTPs, we will be making a Customer Preview Program release available to a broader audience of customers during the second quarter of this calendar year. We will have more details to share about when this build will be released and how customers can participate in the CPP as we get closer to its availability."

In other words, what Microsoft is now calling the "Vista CPP" will take the place of what had previously appeared on its itinerary as "Vista Beta 2." Meanwhile, a set of builds for various customer types, called CTPs, will now fall under the "Beta 2 phase" umbrella. The need for the nomenclature change may have been precipitated by general customer response to Beta 1, which engineers may not have felt provided the necessary amount or quality of feedback needed for them to make progressive changes to the operating system. In other words, the betas were becoming promotional tools more than engineering tests. Under the new system, the CPPs will become those promotional tools.

"Windows Vista Community Technology Previews (CTPs) are incremental builds designed to provide technical customers an opportunity to test and develop on the Windows Vista infrastructure," Microsoft's spokesperson stated late yesterday, "and to provide timely and relevant feedback to Microsoft throughout the product's development cycle. CTPs are available to participants in the Windows Vista Technical Beta Program, as well as to subscribers of MSDN and Technet. We are targeting to release the next CTP in the first quarter of this year, most likely in February. This next CTP will be the Enterprise CTP, in the sense that it will be feature complete and we will be encouraging our enterprise customers to begin active testing with its release."

The Beta 2 phase, said the spokesperson, would be immediately followed by the Release Candidate (RC) phase of development, although no further details were given on that point. The company still plans to release all final retail editions of Windows Vista during the second half of 2006, the spokesperson reiterated.

On Monday, TG Daily provided a Web link to a Techworld story, which provided yet another interpretation of Allchin's same comments, concluding that he could not guarantee that the final edition of Vista would meet its target date in the second half, when Allchin is due to retire. This posting prompted a comment from our friend and colleague, Mary Jo Foley of Microsoft Watch, who stopped just short of betting money that the company would force itself to meet that target date, even if it had to cut features to do it. With yesterday's comments from Microsoft, it would appear Mary Jo's bet is pretty safe.