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Vista in 2007: Microsoft delays an OS, postpones an industry

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Vista in 2007: Microsoft delays an OS, postpones an industry

Redmond (WA) – The official reason being given by Microsoft for the delay of broad availability of Windows Vista until 2007, as presented late yesterday by outgoing co-president Jim Allchin, is this: Quality concerns, some of which apparently concerned system security, that turned up during product testing, prompted Microsoft to push its release date from October to November. But certain Microsoft partners – some of them PC manufacturers, plus some smaller OEMs, perhaps supporting equipment manufacturers, and some retailers, but none of them named – requested that if Microsoft were going to delay until November anyway, it might as well push forward into January. The reason given was apparently that it’s difficult to launch, promote, and ship new products so close to the holidays.

“Our industry partners, as you probably know, during the December [selling] season, need quite a bit of time, and an extremely high level of confidence and certainty about that period of time,” Allchin told analysts in a conference call yesterday. “Now, we’ve been in discussions with them, and in order for all the industry to be ready, instead of just part of the industry, we’ve decided to prioritize around the customer and partner satisfaction for the broad availability, to be in January of 2007. This will ensure great out-of-the-box experience for Windows Vista customers, and ensure that all of our partners are prepared at the same time.”

That is the official line, more or less, from Microsoft. The scope of the delay, as Allchin framed it yesterday, is merely a few weeks. Let’s take a good look at which few weeks those are. Just a few weeks ago, with the company holding true to “the second half of this year” as its release window, indications from Microsoft and its partners began centering around late September at the earliest. This would have given Microsoft and its partners optimal time to ramp up a promotional program, though October would probably also have been fine. November, as we’ve reported before with regard to a completely different product, is cutting it close, but not so close as to completely obliterate PC sales for the holidays.

Allchin sees no reason to expect PC sales forecasts for the year to change. You can read that last sentence over again; I promise you it is not in error. Allchin stated yesterday that Microsoft was asked to make this delay by the very PC manufacturers whose sales figures are bound to be hurt. “To be clear, the reason why we’re doing this is because they asked us to do this. To be clear, some would like for us to continue, and some wouldn’t. So what we’re trying to do is think about the whole industry, and we don’t see any plan in change in terms of PC forecast.”

Yesterday, the euphemisms were flying, and the time machine was engaged in overdrive as a time period that’s basically a shift from the second half of one year to the first half of the next one – a minimum of six months – was shaved down by multiple characterizations to two or three weeks, tops. “We needed just a few more weeks, and that puts us in what we would call a ‘bubble’ where some partners would be impacted more than others, and we decided to optimize it for the entire industry. So because of the industry logistics, we needed a few more weeks…to make [Vista] available in two stages: one for business and one for consumers, one in November and one in January.”

If you look at the delay even more closely, from Microsoft’s internal perspective, Allchin says it isn’t even really a delay. “Obviously, we’re still shipping Windows Vista in our next fiscal year,” he told analysts, “so from our perspective, we’re not changing anything about what our anticipation is next year.”

Perhaps you’re wondering too, just what sort of manufacturer would request that Microsoft jettison the otherwise all-important holiday selling season? A Dell spokesperson declined comment on that question to TG Daily today, other than to say that the company looks forward to Vista, and that “Dell believes Microsoft Windows Vista will help redefine personal computing for the next generation of users.” (The current generation may be stuck with Windows XP for awhile.)

But HP, an executive of which was quoted in Microsoft’s delay statement yesterday, offered a longer and more detailed response to our inquiry. “As Microsoft is one of HP’s most valued and trusted partners,” said the HP spokesperson, “we fully support them in determining the most appropriate schedule for the Windows Vista launch. We will continue to work together closely to ensure that we jointly deliver to customers the best total technology experience available, and look forward to focusing on an exciting post-holiday launch of the new operating system. And of course, we are continuing our plans to support Windows Vista across our consumer and business product lines.”

If HP truly is working with Microsoft in the scheduling department, then the fact that HP is 1) honing up to that fact, and 2) not complaining about circumstances, may make that company a candidate for one of Allchin’s mystery companies.

Won’t the delay basically destroy PC sales for the remainder of the year, though, including for HP, as consumers wait until they can purchase something they can see? In its response, HP didn’t exactly say no: “Holiday is usually our strongest season, and we still expect it to be so, but it’s a bit too early for us to share any detail on specific offerings or upgrade plans for those products,” the spokesperson told TG Daily. But, with more than 90 percent of our consumer PC portfolio qualifying as “Vista Capable,” customers concerned with future compatibility with the new operating system will be able to purchase with confidence that their HP system will continue to serve them well as they look to move to Vista and other system upgrades of their choice.

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How the glitch stole Christmas

ATI’s response to our inquiry is at least equally as interesting, if not more so. From the graphics card manufacturer’s perspective, “we don’t see the delay in Vista has having much of an impact on ATI at all,” a spokesperson wrote. “While we are extremely excited about the new opportunities Vista will bring in terms of making graphics important to people outside of the gaming community, it does not change our plans and we are by no means dependant on its availability.”

But in the company’s next paragraph, it changes its tune, especially with regard to the importance Vista will have in the gaming market. Surprisingly, ATI doesn’t believe now there will be much of one. “It is in ATI’s and everyone’s best interest to see a very successful Vista launch when the new operating system is fully and completely ready,” the spokesperson writes. “So in that vein, we support Microsoft’s schedule retargeting as positive for us and the industry in general. When it comes to graphics, much of the benefit of Vista is to the enterprise/business market (due to increased stability and better security), and Microsoft has stated that enterprise/business users will get Vista in November. This is a very small schedule slip of just a month. ATI has and will continue to focus its efforts on working closely with our OEM customers to ensure they are building PCs that are ready to support Windows Vista when it launches.”

So in addition to fabulous flying euphemisms and temporal fudge factors, from the world of politics, add the tactic of lowering expectations, which ATI now seems to be doing. Last September, ATI representatives told us in Microsoft’s presence that Vista would change the world for them, that it would redefine consumer expectations for graphics performance. Now, all of a sudden, Vista is really just a business update for Windows. You can’t say a delay of this magnitude doesn’t change one’s perspective on things.

While some other companies are willing to comment, the thunderous silence of others could perhaps say just as much, if not more. Today, an Intel spokesperson declined all comment on this specific issue, on behalf of all corporate divisions. Intel will have nothing to say. AMD has yet to respond to our inquiry.

In Jim Allchin’s conference yesterday, he noted several times that the company needed just a few extra weeks of development time. He was peppered with questions about that interval: How could Microsoft predict that it only needed a few more weeks, as opposed to, say, another quarter or even six months (in real time)? His answer is almost poetic in its symbolism: “‘Quality’ is a very comprehensive term. We have a set of metrics that we’re watching, and we are ratcheting up these metrics higher than we’ve ever ratcheted them up before.” Noting that testers have had so many comments in response to the recent February CTP release of Vista, he added, “It perhaps is funny that the feedback from the CTP in February is so strong. I could be wrong, but I wouldn’t be surprised if people end up saying, once the get the next CTP, ‘This thing’s good enough, why didn’t you ship this?’ But for us, it won’t be high enough quality.

“I think in every Windows release,” Allchin continued, “we ratchet up what we’re trying to do in terms of performance, making sure we have appropriate drivers, efficient testing, etc. If I had to pick out one aspect [to focus our attention on], I guess…we’re trying to crank up the security level higher than ever. So there’s specific features that we’re going to usability testing with, we’re getting feedback on, and we’re continuing to hone. But in the scheme of things, you have to understand, this came down to a few weeks. But we’re trying to do the responsible thing here, and step back and say, ‘How can we best help the [customer] here and take a responsible leadership role, even though we’re talking about, the delta’s only a few weeks?'”

When Sony delayed its PlayStation 3 console from June to November, we wrote about how June was characterized as “spring,” and how the June to November interval was the second worst three months the company could have chosen, the worst being from October to January. We received some mail advising us to, essentially, do the math. Yesterday, we were introduced to a newly ratcheted-up form of math altogether. These next “few weeks,” we believe, could possibly seem like a whole year.

More in-depth analysis on the Windows Vista delay later today on TG Daily.