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Win2k date prediction industry goes into overdrive

It's more dated than Zsa-Zsa Gabor, apparently...

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As Windows 2000 reaches crunch point the highways and byways of the Web are positively ringing to the crunch of beta-watchers changing step. The latest to climb aboard is Paul Thurrott of WinInfo, who today puts his neck on the line by insisting that Win2k will RTM on the first day of Comdex after all. Paul's latest information flatly contradicts the previous Win2k RC3 (Release Candidate 3) and RTM (Release to Manufacture) dates, including the ones WinInfo had been pitching until today. The general consensus was (and right now, still is) that RC3 will go out the week before Comdex, and RTM will happen at the beginning of December. WinInfo's latest punt however pulls RC3 back to next Wednesday, giving two and half weeks for Microsoft to hit RTM by 15th November. RC3 will be a limited beta, and barring major accidents will be more or less the finished product. So long as Microsoft can get the code together for next week, and so long as there are no big screw-ups, then RTM a couple of weeks afterwards is perfectly feasible. You might muse that this means RC3 isn't really a beta at all, but then it never really is, right? Does any of this matter? Well friends, no, not really. Specialist Windows sites have been getting into a serious lather (fortunately, you can't do fisticuffs on the Web) over the precise RC3 and RTM dates, and whoever winds up clutching the correct final, final one will crow mightily. But the truth is that we're now at the point where marketing drives the dates, not technical issues. Win2k is now sufficiently nearly finished for Microsoft to step back a little, secure in the knowledge that it can now more or less go when the high command says go. And as it long since passed the point where it could go onto PCs selling in Q4, MS can take a pretty relaxed attitude to the date. If Win2k doesn't RTM by Vegas MS could sustain some damage, but it'll only be minor, because the product will be really close anywhere, and a company that can 'launch' slideware doesn't need shipping code to kick-off a major rollout. Whether it RTMs tomorrow, next week, November or December is no longer particularly important. Whatever it does, the OEMs won't have it through their testing processes until Q1 2000, and they won't have it on shipping machines any earlier than February. And actually, there's almost an argument supporting the claims that Win2k isn't late (this is another thing the specialist sites have been getting exercised about). Earlier this week MS CFO Greg Maffei said he didn't expect revenue from Win2k until next financial year, i.e. July 2000 onwards. This doesn't mean Win2k won't be shipping before that date, just that the money won't have come in and been accounted for. Rationally though you'd interpret that as meaning shipping ramping up in Q2. This view of Maffei's isn't however recent - by no means. In his presentation to the annual analysts meeting a full quarter ago Maffei said exactly the same thing. Microsoft's head bean-counter has known the ship dates at least approximately since late July, and has told anyone who's prepared to listen. This isn't of course quite the same song as the marketing people have been singing, which is what you base the argument that Win2k is late on. But there's an upside for at least one segment of Microsoft - the OEM sales team. The ideal rollout time for a new OS, as far as MS OEM is concerned, is Q1. That gives Joachim Kempin and his merry men time to get the deals cut with the PC companies and get everybody primed for an orderly push through the rest of the year. This doesn't of course ordinarily happen, but if an OS overshoots by enough... Register perspective check: Just in case you're still confused about whether or not Win2k is really late, we'll briefly roll back a year. At that point, Microsoft was figuring out how it could deaden the impact of the NetWare 5 rollout. It wasn't possible to do so with shipping code, but its executives were planning on the basis that they could win corporate hearts and minds with the Corporate Preview Programme (which didn't actually kick off until much later), keep them interested in Win2k and stop them defecting to NetWare for long enough for Microsoft to get shipping code together. The targets they were then working to called for a CPP of around six months with regular updates, culminating in finished product by late Q1-early Q2 1999. Those dates got radically revised pretty rapidly, of course. ®

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