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Microsoft Plans Staggered Release Of Windows Vista Beta 2

Businesses will get it first, consumers get it next. Microsoft executive Jim Allchin says the two-phase release doesn't mean features are missing or that the ship date could be delayed until 2007.

Microsoft plans to stagger the release of Windows Vista Beta 2 in two phases: one for businesses in the first quarter and one for consumers in the second quarter.

The first drop, dubbed Microsoft’s Enterprise Community Technology Preview (CTP), will be released to corporate accounts participating in its early Technology Adopter Program (TAP).

Then, in the second quarter, Beta 2 will go out more broadly to one million to two million consumers, according to the Microsoft executive leading the charge.

In an interview with CRN last week, Jim Allchin, co-president of Microsoft’s Platform Products and Services Division, who has said he plans to retire at the end of the year, said the software is now feature-complete, but the quality of Beta 2 is not ready yet for broad consumer testing. He said the two-phase Beta 2 release does not signify features are missing or that the ship date could be delayed until 2007.

Beta 2 is coming out in the first quarter, but “it’s not as broad as in everyone will get it. Thousands and thousands [of business users] will get this one,” he said. “We’re trying to designate a certain CTP for each customer set, and the one coming up we’ll be telling companies they should be testing. We’re going to tell them to go broad, very broad. We’ve got to know the showstoppers early.”

Microsoft said it expects as many as 500,000 business testers. After getting corporate feedback and fixing issues, Microsoft will release a Beta 2 more broadly to consumers in the second quarter, followed by Release Candidate and a final ship date by “holiday” time frame in 2006.

Microsoft said the two releases do not represent separate business and consumer SKUs. However, partners said Microsoft has more immediate challenges on the business side. “I’m not surprised they’re coming out with Beta 2 for business first. Everything in Vista they’re targeting at the commercial market, especially on the server side and core enhancements because they want to make sure they’re pushing against Linux as much as they can,” said Bob Tedesco, CTO at Resolute, Bellevue, Wash.

“I like the fact that they target beta-testing to different audiences. The core of the products is the same in all versions of Vista and largely also in Longhorn Server, but we will, as always, see different specializations of the products suited for different needs,” said Per Werngren, CEO of IDE, Stockholm. “This split in Beta 2 of Vista is only natural.”

Partners prepping their TAP customers said the Enterprise CTP is an important step to launch. “Beta 2 is where we’ll really start to take a serious look at the product,” said Michael Cocanower, president of ITSynergy, Phoenix. “It’s important we start to become familiar with it because we aren’t far off from Release Candidate. Before we know it, it will be rolling off the assembly lines on new PCs we have to support.”

Partners expect significant corporate interest in Windows Vista because of its enhanced security and safety, mobility, Internet and user-interface features. Microsoft last week demonstrated a new peer-to-peer feature called Windows Collaboration that allows workers in close proximity to collaborate on the same documents over wireless networks with no user intervention.

Other new features include Rights Management client, Mobility Center, Sync-to-PC/Server, IE 7.0’s RSS support, and an enhanced user interface that allows companies to search and organize information better and graphically display rich corporate data in 3-D mode.

Solution providers said they also expect a healthy PC upgrade cycle due to Intel’s new dual-core and Viiv platforms.

“It’s a big business upgrade. It’s an end-user change but, under the covers of Vista, is a more secure environment and ease of administration,” said Ken Winell, CEO of Econium, Totowa, N.J., a Visalign company. “Hardware is going to be on the upswing this year because a lot of companies in 2003 and 2004 bought Centrinos and laptops because the costs were coming down, but now we’re seeing a new breed of dual-core laptops.”

Microsoft distributed Windows Vista Beta 1 in July and followed with three CTPs in September, October and December. In December, Microsoft said the feature-complete version of Beta 2 would be available in early 2006. To date, Microsoft has achieved all milestones in its Vista development and testing cycle and is confident of shipping before the end of the year.

BARBARA DARROW contributed to this story.

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