Customers and partners whove been holding their breath waiting for Beta 2 of Windows Vista before getting serious about testing Microsofts next-generation operating system can exhale.
There will be no single, catchall Beta 2 of Vista, according to Jim Allchin, co-president of Microsofts Platform Products & Services Division, in Redmond, Wash. Instead, Microsoft is planning to rely increasingly on CTP (Community Technology Preview) builds to get its feedback from Windows testers.
For enterprises, this strategy means less time to work with the new code in traditional beta testing efforts, but it also gives testers a chance to provide more frequent and specific feedback to Microsoft on the prerelease versions of Vista. CTPs, in Microsoft parlance, are interim test releases that represent a product snapshot in time. They are usually less stable than traditional beta releases.
Allchin wouldnt go so far as to say Microsoft is nixing Windows beta releases altogether. However, Microsoft is definitely shifting the way it collects customer input for Windows by putting more emphasis on the feedback it receives from testers working with more frequently released CTP builds.
"Customers do need significant milestones," Allchin said. "But you could classify CTPs as betas, but for a different audience."
On Longhorn Server, Microsoft also is planning to issue a number of regular CTP builds as the product wends its way through the testing process until it is released to manufacturing in 2007, Allchin said.
There are two more full-fledged beta releases of Longhorn Server planned, however, said Allchin. Longhorn Server Beta 2 will hit in the second quarter. Microsoft also has added a Beta 3, slated to hit in the second half of this year, to its schedule, Allchin said.
"The question is, what level of feedback are they going to take with CTPs versus an administrated beta program," said a tester with a major Microsoft business partner, who requested anonymity. "I think the CTP is good for getting the product into customers hands early, but for systems professionals who want to be able to interact with the company, it might not be as good."
As it stands now, Vista is feature-complete, Allchin said. Microsoft will not be adding any features to the product before it ships, although the company is reserving the right to cut some functionality if the product isnt up to snuff by the time it is ready to go gold.
"We still have lots of bugs, application performance and compatibility things to work on," Allchin admitted.
Microsoft still is not going public with its packaging and pricing decisions for Vista or Longhorn Server. The company will be playing up in coming months some of the deployment tools and less heralded features, such as synchronization among laptops, desktops and servers.
Allchin said that—contrary to some published reports—Microsoft will not be shipping the bits for all its different Vista packages on a single CD. Microsoft would like to be able to do so, but "timing" is holding the company back, Allchin said.
Instead, the company will be making Vista available under a new Windows Anytime Upgrade plan, which will allow customers to move more easily between different versions of the product when they are ready to upgrade. Allchin did not offer further details on that licensing mechanism.
Microsoft fine-tunes its Windows timetables
Windows Vista client
* Beta 1 July 2005
* CTP Partners December 2005 * CTP Enterprise Early 2006 * CTP Customer Review Program Q2 2006 * RTM (release to manufacturing) Late 2006
* Beta 1 July 2005
* Beta 2 Q2 2006
* Beta 3 Second half of 2006 with various CTPs throughout the cycle; RTM in 2007