Analysts said that the date was probably on the money.
According to Amazon, the retail versions of Windows Vista will ship the second-to-last day of January, with prices set to range from $99.95 for the Home Basic upgrade to $399 for the full version of Ultimate. As of mid-day Tuesday, the pre-order listings remained viewable on Amazon.
Amazon staked Vista's retail versions at:
-- Windows Vista Home Basic: $99.95 (upgrade), $199 (full version) -- Windows Vista Home Premium: $159 (upgrade), $239 (full version) -- Windows Vista Business: $199 (upgrade), $299 (full version) -- Windows Vista Ultimate: $259 (upgrade), $399 (full version)
"We got the prices straight off Microsoft's price lists," said Sean Sundwall, a spokesman for Amazon.
Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment or clarification on the prices and delivery date posted by Amazon.
For their part, some industry watchers saw the Amazon-reported pricing as comparable to existing costs for Windows XP, while others noted that, at least in some instances, Microsoft is raising prices. One analyst thought both arguments had merit.
"The pricing is a difficult one to do comparisons with the past," said Joe Wilcox, analyst with JupiterResearch. "It depends a lot on how you want to look at it."
On one hand, Wilcox saw Microsoft positioning Home Basic as "pretty basic" in functionality, yet is charging the same as Windows XP Home. "You could argue that it's a price increase across the board." On the other hand, Microsoft's added new versions and shifted some functionality -- notably the Windows Media Center set, which hasn't been available at retail -- to those editions. "So you could say it's in line with prices today."
But even though he thought there was a legitimate argument for both sides, Wilcox was certain of one thing. "The additional licenses are a nightmare. They are ridiculously confusing."
By Amazon's accounting, Microsoft will sell extra licenses to existing Vista users -- for a family or small business PC, for example -- at prices ranging from $89.95 (for a Home Basic upgrade on a second PC) to $359 (for an Ultimate full version). All told, Amazon listed 8 additional license prices.
"Microsoft has completely missed a bundling opportunity," said Wilcox, who noted that Apple Computer sells a 5-license Mac OS X upgrade pack for $199.
But it was the ship date of January 30 that garnered the most attention from analysts Tuesday.
In March, Microsoft announced a delay for the long-struggling Vista. Then it said that the OS would be in volume licensees' hands by November 2006, and available to others in January 2006. Although technology pundits have predicted Microsoft would miss those dates, the company has repeatedly said it was "on track" to deliver. Last week, however, an executive from Microsoft's China operations said that Vista would ship in "late January."
"From the schedule that Microsoft seems to be operating on, that looks right," said Michael Cherry, an analyst with Kirkland, Wash.-based Directions on Microsoft. If they have Release Candidate 1 before Labor Day weekend, and then Release To Manufacturing by Halloween, then they have the 30 days of November to get it to volume license customers. And from Oct. 30 would be about 90 days to the end of January. "That's about right" for what it takes to get Windows Vista into the channel, Cherry said.
Amazon's Sundwall said that, unlike the Vista's prices, the availability date was "our own estimate of when we think Vista will ship." The date, however, was based on talks with Microsoft as well as others.
"I don't know if that date is right or not," said Wilcox. "But if it is, that's one of the worst times of the year, sales-wise, for PCs. Late January is one of the slowest times of the year."
Cherry, however, is betting that the end of January is on the mark. "One thing that makes January likely is that Microsoft could use the Consumer Electronics Show," which runs from Jan. 8 through Jan. 11, "to throw a big party and make a splash, maybe even start a pre-sales campaign." The fact that Vista won't be ready to ship to retail or be included with on-the-shelf PCs by then doesn't mean Microsoft can't host a blow-out at CES, said Cherry. "In this business, you can have meaningless events because they scale well. Frankly my expectation is that Microsoft will have the bits finished before the end of the year."
In fact, Cherry added, it's crucial for Microsoft to get Vista out the door. And not for the reasons others have cited, such as beating Apple's Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) to market.
"It's not a factor of the Mac, it's a factor of morale" at Microsoft, said Cherry. "Vista's taken on a life of its own, with all manner of disappointments, shuffling of teams and executives, and so on.
"They need to get this done, if for no other reason than that Vista is starting to take a psychic toll on the company."