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Microsoft Refines Windows Vista Timeline

In an interview with Microsoft co-president Jim Allchin last week, I was told that the software giant was dispensing with traditional development milestones such as Beta 2 and Release Candidate 1 (RC1) for Windows Vista, and would instead mark the remainder of that operating system's development schedule with Community Technical Preview (CTP) builds. These CTP builds will come out every month or two, and each will typically improve on the previous CTP build in fairly dramatic ways. Since launching the first Vista CTP build in September 2005, Microsoft shipped CTPs to testers in October and December 2005.

The next CTP is due in mid-February and is what Allchin calls an Enterprise CTP. This CTP will be aimed largely at Microsoft's hundreds of Technology Adoption Program (TAP) partners, as well the traditional beta testers. The Enterprise CTP will be the first public release of Windows Vista to include virtually all of the functionality that Microsoft plans for the final release, and is thus interesting for that reason alone. But it will also be the first build to include XP upgrading capabilities, Microsoft's image-based deployment tools, and various other enterprise-related features.

While Allchin didn't provide a date for the next CTP after that, sources tell me that Microsoft will ship its next CTP, previously called Beta 2, in April. That CTP will be issued publicly to anyone that wants to kick Vista's tires, and Allchin says he expects millions of consumers to give it a shot.

Sometime around mid-2006, Microsoft will issue what might have previously been thought of as an RC release. Then, the company will complete Vista development and ship the product in time for holiday 2006.

The CTP approach is interesting because it relies on more product drops and thus more timely feedback. Allchin told me the CTP system was highly successful for Windows Vista, but he wasn't sure if other product groups at Microsoft would change to this system. Longhorn Server, for example, still utilizes the traditional milestoning approach and will have Beta 2, Beta 3, and various RC releases.

I asked Mr. Allchin if he thought whether other groups at Microsoft would pick up on the CTP approach and drop the major milestone schedule. "We're getting a lot of good feedback," he told me. "We'll have to see. Many of the things we think of as platforms are doing CTPs as well. But you still have to designate a CTP for a particular purpose, which is what the beta [releases] were for. The difference is that, instead of having a beta and then huge amounts of dead time, and then another huge drop, you have more constant updates. And we think that will speed up the development process."

For more information, my entire Jim Allchin interview is available now.

This article originally appeared in the January 31, 2006 issue of Windows IT Pro UPDATE.

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