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MS plans to lock users into Win2k as beta slips again

With the preview machine finally cranking into action, it looks like Microsoft thinks it can see daylight

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The ship date for beta 3 of Windows 2000 has slipped again, but things are looking up - it's only another week, and Microsoft seems to be confident enough about its viability to be kicking in its cunning plan to hook corporate customers in advance of shipping the actual product. The new beta ship date is April 26 to OEMs and April 28 to beta testers, but provided it really happens, Microsoft will be able to bring a particularly inglorious episode of slipware (holy smoke - Microsoft Word can spell slipware) to an end. Beta 3 slipped from late last summer to thanksgiving, then to Q199, then to "April timeframe," and most recently got fixed at 21 April. Full shipment is still targeted for the end of the year, but Microsoft is also said to be planning some kind of early corporate distribution in October. We'll tell you what we think that's about. The current plan is for a Corporate Partnership Program (CPP) to be announced on Monday. This scheme will allow corporate customers to buy beta 3 and then upgrade to the full product when it ships. We'd guess that the October drop could be somewhere between this code and the finished item, depending on how well development goes over the next few months. The CPP has been planned since last summer, and was originally intended to be announced as a sort of disruption campaign at the same time as NetWare 5 shipped. Beta 3 plus an advanced support and evangelisation campaign would go to selected corporate customers, and they'd get a series of updates, fixes and further information over a period of approximately six months until Windows 2000 shipped. Which of course put Microsoft's (then) intended ship date for full product at March. The problem with the CPP was that the beta product had to be sufficiently battle-ready to be able to do some work initially within the customer's operation without trashing anything. So if Microsoft marketing thought it could ship such a product almost immediately, seven months ago, it gives you an idea of just how bad communications between MS marketing and MS development are. Here's another little nugget about the CPP. It was originally the intention that the customers would pay for it, not necessarily that much, but enough to cover production of CDs, support and associated seminars and promotion. It was therefore known internally as the CRP (Cost Recovery Program). No really, this is true. It's not clear that the CPP as announced now is going to take quite the same form. The previous version was intended to stop Novell and build in some extra time for Y2K compliance programmes. If it had shipped last September/October, corporate customers would have been able to do some Y2K planning based around Win2K, but it's now probably too late for Microsoft to recoup the ground lost here. The CPP is also now overlapping with what appears to be a wider scale preview programme, which is being operated in conjunction with the PC companies. They'll be selling some machines running beta 3, and shipping them with upgrade coupons. Again according to the original CPP planning, it was important not to have the Win2k beta turn into one of those 'spam the world with betas' stunts that it pulled with Windows 95. The CPP code was supposed to be stable enough for fairly experienced customers to deal with, but if thousands of inexperienced users wound up trashing their systems with it that would have been severely counter-productive. So we should be looking out for the kind of volumes of beta 3 the PC companies are likely to ship, and the sort of customers they're prepared to ship them to. If the range is broad, then either Microsoft really does think it's finally on top of Win2k, or its corporate nerve snapped and it's decided to go for it anyway. We should also look out for a more wide-scale interim build, available to all and sundry, maybe even free - in October? Could be. ®

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