I've now heard from two Microsoft sources that the release of Windows XP (Whistler desktop versions) Beta 2 has slipped 2 weeks to mid-March. This corresponds with Friday's Computer Reseller News (CRN) story that reported that Microsoft internally warned its Windows XP team that the release had slipped. The delay, which the company will use to shore up this last beta release's quality, isn't expected to impact the product's final release.
"We are not hitting our goals for Whistler Beta 2," wrote Microsoft program manager Iain McDonald in an email to the Windows XP team. "This being the case, we're moving the release of Beta 2 to \[March\] 14 . . . No one ever remembers a 2-week slip. Now is the time for us to be aggressive and drive the intensity. March is gut-check month because if we don't do this now, we'll miss the runway." The runway McDonald refers to is the holiday 2001 selling period, when retailers hope that Windows XP-based PCs will rejuvenate a sagging market. Microsoft has always walked a thin line between releasing products based on preordained schedules, which help PC makers plot product transitions, and doing the right thing quality-wise. Despite protestations from the company to the contrary, we've seen more cases of the former than the latter, a situation Microsoft appears to be continuing with Windows XP.
After the Beta 2 release, Windows XP hits the home stretch. Currently scheduled to hit its first release candidate build in April, Windows XP will then be released to manufacturing (RTM) in June for a fall 2001 retail release; its development has roughly mirrored that of Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me) last year. "When we hit Release Candidate 1 (RC1)," McDonald wrote to the Windows XP team, "we have a solid 8-week program. The RC2 release is a short milestone where we can fix any final big things. These milestones are shorter than Windows 2000--in fact, more like the end game of Windows Me because of the similarities of the release. We need each team to sign in blood they will work to ship us in June."
Windows XP features the first significant new Windows UI since Windows 95, integration with digital media experiences, and new versions of Internet Explorer (IE) and Windows Media Player (WMP).