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WinXP ship date heads for October ‘line of death’

Course this might just be AOL and friends rumour-mongering...

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Microsoft is dangerously close to crossing the line of death with WinXP. Just a week after Giga's Rob Enderle was catching it for suggesting WinXP wouldn't hit the stores until October, Joe Wilcox of CNET (yes, him again) is saying it's now scheduled for, er, October.

October 29th, in fact, which is pretty nearly November, as Octobers go. Joe cites "sources familiar with Microsoft's product plans," so we can maybe assume they're similar, or maybe the same, sources to the ones in the PC OEM business he quoted in his previous XP delay piece. A couple of these claimed they'd been specifically told by Microsoft that October was the cut-off, and if it wasn't possible to get XP out by then, it'd get knocked back to next year.

So in that context really late in October has a certain significance. Bear in mind though that as the people doing the talking are in the hardware business, they may be playing some kind of poker game. Last week's leaked AOL papers included pretty plausible claims that PC companies were ticked off about Microsoft clearing the desktop and "demonetizing" it for them (i.e. stopping them using it as a hoarding for selling their stuff). Undoubtedly the big OEMs are currently in serious 'who gets to own what' talks with Microsoft, and as part of that it might make sense for them to at least appear to be interested in AOL's cunning plans to keep saying 'not ready', 'not compatible', delayed.

The PC companies' interest in cranking up the pressure, however, doesn't mean that Microsoft doesn't face problems with XP. As we said last week, it's still just too easy to break, and a lot of stuff that does run on Win2k not only doesn't on XP, but severely maims your installation in the process of not running.

Prime breakware candidates are anything that wants to mess with the file system, which is now NTFS 5.1, and also anything that wants to play with your NIC. The Register's latest additions to the Dumb Things with Hindsight we'd Rather Not Have Done list include LanExplorer, which fortunately only didn't work, and the NAI freeware edition of PGP for Windows 7.0.3. Very nasty experience, don't go there, OK?

If Microsoft really is going to succeed in positioning XP as the best, most stable and crash-proof OS ever, it's going to have to fix problems like these, and a whole stack of stuff in other categories. Considering the size of this taks, that makes slippage to October or worse eminently plausible. Having the retail launch at the tail end of the month, however, wouldn't necessarily mean the whole show would have to come rattling out in early November.

It could be that Microsoft intends to mollify the PC companies by giving them a lengthy period for testing and configuring, and that they'll still be able to hit the market with XP machines during October. That'll depend on where Microsoft currently (or eventually) puts XP's Release to Manufacture (RTM) date, and that's really the date that'll determine whether XP's a Q4 2001 or a 2002 product.

Microsoft may officially put it back, but even if it doesn't, if the company were to wind up shipping the code in late Q4, then it would effectively be a 2002 product anyway, and the consumer version, which would have missed the big sales season, would effectively be a second half 2002 product, that being the next big sales opportunity.

Some of the analysts are suggesting that the later XP goes, the more Microsoft faces the problem of it overlapping with the Xbox rollout. That might seem superficially weird, as they're supposed to be two different markets, but as the moment gets nearer it's quite probable that it's occuring to the Redmond marketing droids that in the home sector, er, maybe they're not. You're going to buy a groovy, state-of-the-art box for home this winter, and here's Microsoft confusing you by trying to sell you two of them. Or three, if you count Web Companions.

With that in mind, surely October is already too late? The optimum positioning would have been XP in September, for the back to school market, and Xbox in November, for the holiday season. If it is October, Microsoft has probably already blown it.

Related links:
WinXP: one more slip, and it's put back to 2002
WinXP delayed? How it could slip beyond October
CNET:Windows XP expected to ship in October
CNET: Will Windows XP be postponed unitl 2002?

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