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WinXP: one more slip, and it's put back to 2002

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Any further slippage in WinXP's development schedule will result in the whole project being knocked back into 2002, according to a CNET story by the estimable Joe Wilcox. As we pointed out yesterday, there is no more slack in the schedule if Microsoft is to make the holiday sales season, but credit where credit's due, Joe has induced a number of unnamed PC manufacturers to suggest Microsoft has been preparing them for a possible slip into next year.

There's no reason to doubt this, because it's no more than the truth, if Microsoft is being realistic about Project XP. After all the hype it has to make a big bang entry for the Win2k codebase into the consumer market, which means hitting major sales peaks with a major, fully-functioning product. Microsoft still has some major hills to climb in the fully-functioning department, and further slippage would leave it with the choice of putting out a dud product consumers might well reject, or knocking the release back into 2002.

That choice is scarcely novel for Microsoft, and it's put out some pretty modest-looking products and called them new operating systems in the past. Indeed, as WinXP is basically a point rev of Win2k (it's still designated NT 5.1), it could have easily fallen into the 'jumped-up Service Pack' category. That however wouldn't have provided the kind of momentum necessary for Win2k (not a typo - Win2k is what I mean) to make the leap from business into consumer, so the service pack instead is having piles of exciting, compelling (that's the idea, anyway) extra services and goodies packed into it.

Which - oh dear - has taken it away from service pack territory, and dangerously close to major OS project status. The Register has always held that Microsoft produces two kinds of OS - the trivial revs that ship on time, and the major projects that ship late, after much late night ear-bleeding by the hapless Redmond coders. By viewing XP as the most important OS release since Win95, Microsoft may have moved it into the second category.

According to the Activewin schedule leak we mentioned yesterday, the next milestone in production is Release Candidate 2,* due on 6th July. If this doesn't happen, the dominoes should begin to fall, the October release date may well be missed, and if that's really a hard and fast internal cut-off, then maybe 2002 it is.

They could always blame the economy. But if it did go to 2002, all sorts of odd things could happen. You could maybe speculate on a more dramatic parting of the ways between Professional and Home. If might make some kind of sense to offer Professional as an upgrade for the corporate market in Q1-Q2, but the next big bang opportunity for consumer would be September 2002. So it'd maybe make sense for Microsoft to bolt more goodies onto the Home version, effectively abandon the codebase convergence for a year, and wind up two Win2k-based products that look a lot more different than the betas currently do.

Win9x lives on till Q3 2002, in that case. Is it too late for Microsoft to do one last refresh of the Win98/ME code and get it to market for Q3 2001? Probably, but there was that slightly odd story we heard a year ago of there being a post-Me rev of the code in the works. Alternatively, some kind of goodie pack might fit the bill.

Blackcomb going down the tubes would also be a likely consequence of WinXP going to 2002. It was roadmapped as the big 2002 and beyond project when XP was roadmapped as the easy one for 2001, but if XP has turned into a big project, Blackcomb may well be redundant, and on the road to achieving that fateful Redmond status, 'just a set of technologies.'

Finally, note that the XP-based Tablet PC is itself due in 2002. Microsoft was no doubt planning a rev of XP to go with this, but if XP itself goes to 2002, then it might make sense to link the Tablet and XP rollouts more closely.

* Did we miss something? Schedules go in the order beta 2, maybe even beta 3, then RC1 and then RC2. Now, The Reg did note a while back that there didn't seem to be a lot of time to slip an RC1 into the schedule between beta 2 and RC2, and we thought maybe beta 2 would be effectively RC1. Has this quietly happened, or did we miss RC1? If not, according to our reverse engineering it should be out in about 14 days or so. Shoot for Friday 16th. ®

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WinXP delayed? How it could slip beyond October

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