Vista, years in the making, is still due late next year. "We're still on track for general availability in the second half of calendar year 2006," Srivastava said. The product will introduce a new user interface for Windows based on virtual folders that users can manipulate to quickly organize information on their computers based on its content.
Next month's test version is part of a new series of "community technology preview" releases of Windows that Microsoft is delivering between beta releases to solicit more feedback on the product from customers. The company shipped an initial beta of Vista in July, and has shipped two community technology previews so far. Windows XP, Microsoft's current desktop PC operating system, arrived back in 2001.
Srivastava declined to say when Microsoft would release a second Windows Vista beta, but said that milestone is "less urgent" given the technology preview program. The December community technology preview release was initially planned for this month. The company will now circulate the November test build of the software to a smaller group of end users and independent software developers.
According to Microsoft, releasing a steady stream of Vista test versions between betas will help get a version of the product that has all its features built in customers' hands sooner. The company has switched its development schedule to one that's based on quality milestones rather than dates, Srivastava said, but that won't have any effect on the product's roadmap. Microsoft plans to have the code for all of Vista's features written by the end of December. "Our customers will have a feature-complete Windows Vista in their hands sooner than any other Windows release," he said.
Microsoft also said it's on track to ship the server-side operating system, code-named Windows Server Longhorn, in 2007.