The long-awaited release of Microsofts first beta of Windows Vista is offering users a look at powerful controls and eye-catching new features, but its a view with a shifting landscape.
Microsoft Corp. officials have been quick to caution that the code and the feature set of the Vista beta, given to some 20,000 technical testers last week, are far from final. Some features may yet be dropped or will be delivered after the product is shipped. Many of Vistas consumer-related features either are not included or are not fully functional in this version, company officials said.
As the operating system moves toward an anticipated release late next year, Microsoft officials are making it clear that they are sticking to their policy that security trumps application compatibility.
"Customers have told us that security comes first, and we are committed to that," said Greg Sullivan, a lead Windows product manager, in Redmond, Wash.
Not everyone agrees. "Microsoft finally has to pay the cost for poor security over the past two decades," said John Kretz, president of Enlightened Point Consulting Group LLC, in Phoenix.
"Now they must choose between security and compatibility, and I think application compatibility should be more important. Look at Intel trying to push a better but incompatible platform called Itanium. It hasnt moved so well, has it?"
Sullivan skirted the issue of which features might be cut from the new operating system to meet release deadlines.
"When we first outlined our time frame and expected vision for Longhorn at the Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles in 2003, it was very ambitious, and, yes, we did pull some features like WinFS, which will be delivered later. We talked about platform APIs then. It was a pure developer message," Sullivan said.
"There is a host of fundamental technologies in the product, and we are determined to get things like security and deployability and patch management right," Sullivan said.
Drivers and applications are expected to be markedly less problematic for customers shifting from Windows XP to Windows Vista than it was for users switching from Windows 2000 to XP.
"Even at this stage, we are testing applications and drivers for compatibility," Sullivan said.
The uncertainty about features, as well as compatibility, leaves Microsoft with an uphill battle to convince enterprises that Vista is compelling enough to justify the cost and effort of an operating system upgrade.
A CIO for a U.S. government agency in Washington who requested anonymity said many users who had battled with application and driver compatibility issues had not yet upgraded from Windows 2000 to Windows XP.
"Theres not enough bang for the buck. At this point, Longhorn looks like more of the same," said the CIO.