Microsoft is making its first Vista release candidate and pricing information more broadly available to partners and consumers this week. Solution providers who have seen it say it's not yet ready for prime time.
On Tuesday, just days after handing out Vista release candidate 1 to a select number of technical testers, Microsoft announced it will distribute RC1 to current Customer Preview Program testers and post it to Microsoft's MSDN and TechNet sites for download in the next few days.
As Microsoft reaches another major milestone in the five year run-up to Vista, Microsoft also confirmed published reports Tuesday that Brian Valentine, senior vice president in charge of Windows development and 19-year Microsoft veteran, is leaving the company.
Valentine will assume a senior vice president's post at Amazon.com beginning in mid September. Last month, Microsoft announced it planned to reassign him to another positon after the completion of Vista and appointed Microsoft Senior Vice President Jon DeVaan to lead Windows development in the future.
Additionally this week, Microsoft said it will reopen its Vista Customer Preview Program to new participants and hopes to have as many as five million people testing the code as the product, the first major Windows upgrade in five years, is prepped for retail release in January.
Vista Release Candidate 1 was released Friday, Sept. 1 to its TechBeta customers and participants in Microsoft's early Technology Adopter Program (TAP), many of whom are partners. Remaining partners will receive RC1 over the next week or so, a spokeswoman for Microsoft said.
On Tuesday Microsoft also announced official retail pricing for the five Windows Vista editions and upgrades that will be available through the retail channel.
Partners will be most interested in the three business versions of Vista. Vista Business, which is the equivalent of Windows XP, will be priced at $299 for the full packaged product and $199 for upgrades. Vista Ultimate, the high-end version that contains the business and home-consumer features, will be priced at $399 for the full packaged product and $259 for upgrades.
Microsoft has promised to release Vista Enterprise to volume licensed customers only. That is due to ship in November. The other editions will be available more broadly through retail and channel distribution in January, Microsoft said.
A number of partners and analysts who have downloaded Vista RC1 say the code is solid but they are not convinced it will be ready for release this fall.
"I tried to install Vista RC1 onto a MacBook with Bootcamp and do the upgrade. It all worked except for a couple of Apple drivers ... that was impressive," said Ken Winell, principal of ExpertCollab, a Microsoft solution provider in Florham Park, N.J. "On a Dual Core Centrino machine, Vista RC1 seems to have improved performancewise, however, it still seems slower than WinXP."
One Microsoft analyst suggested the code is in good shape but he is not convinced that Vista Enterprise will be ready for volume licensed customers in November.
"RC1 is in the best shape of anything they have shipped for Vista, but in the old nomenclature I would call this at best a Beta Three and not a Release Candidate One," said Mike Cherry, lead Windows analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a newsletter in Kirkland, Wash. "I am always skeptical of a plan that is so good that you know that you are only going to have a single release candidate and then get to golden or release quality code. Instead I think they will do a second release candidate at a minimum and finish up or release to manufacturing sometime in December."
Another partner who declined to be named cited ongoing interoperability problems affecting Vista's interaction with existing hardware and software and potential price issues that consumers may have about the new high-end version, known as Ultimate.
"There are still major concerns about hardware and software interoperability, including the inability to get the tablet functionality working correctly," said the Microsoft solution provider, which is based in the Midwest. "Pricing looks high to me, especially the Ultimate package for $400. That is the cost of a low-end computer."
This story was updated Tuesday afternoon with details on Brian Valentine's departure.