12:56 PM

Ballmer Hints Vista Might Slip Its Deadline--Again

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the company isn't really committed to a widespread January rollout for consumers, as other company executives said two months ago.

Just days after saying that Windows Vista's release wouldn't be delayed by Symantec's lawsuit, Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer on Wednesday hinted that the next-generation operating system might not make its announced January delivery date.

On Monday, Ballmer told reporters in Beijing that he didn't think Vista would be postponed because of the Symantec suit, which demands that the operating system be barred from release until Microsoft removes code Symantec claims it stole from storage maker Veritas, which is now owned by Symantec.

Wednesday, however, Ballmer said that the company wasn't really committed to a widespread January roll-out for consumers, as other company executives said two months ago when the latest delay in a string of Vista push-backs was announced.

"Certainly, when Windows Vista comes to the market next year, and it will be next year, we will make sure that we make a high quality product, ship a high quality product, when it's ready," Ballmer told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) wire service in Tokyo. Ballmer was in Japan to announce an expanded partnership in server, networking, and VoIP business with Japanese electronics giant NEC.

Ballmer went on to say that Microsoft would take feedback from the just-released Vista Beta 2, and decide "in the next few weeks" whether to stick to January or shift the date.

He also noted that since Vista's already missing the fourth quarter sales season, it would be smart to wait until the next "machine cycle" to release the OS.

"What we are discussing...with hardware partners is when they would really like it -- early January, late January, February," Ballmer told the AFP. "We are on track for shipping early in the year."

Analysts have pooh-poohed the January release almost from its announcement. One Gartner researcher, for instance, has warned users not to expect Vista until the second quarter of 2007.

Perhaps Ballmer heard a second Gartner analyst, who said in April that by delaying Vista until July 2007, PC makers could sell an additional 1.1 million PCs during the year.

Microsoft's recent messages on Vista, however, can only be described as mixed. Tuesday, Jim Alchin, co-president of the company's platforms group and the man responsible for bringing the OS to market, told reporters at the WinHEC confab that he was "confident" Vista would make its January ship date.

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