Microsoft is set to deliver a new Windows Vista build – possibly Build No. 5506 -- to testers some time in the next few days, according to Vista testers who asked not to be named. The forthcoming build will embed links to a number of Microsoft's Windows Live services.
Microsoft is gunning to release the new build some time the week of August 14, testers said. That build may be 5506 or a slightly later build, they said.
On the Welcome Screen in Build 5506, Microsoft is including direct download links for Windows Live Messenger, Windows Live OneCare, Windows Live Toolbar and Windows Live Mail Desktop, according to screen shots of a Vista Ultimate 5506 build obtained by Microsoft Watch.
In addition, Microsoft is including Windows Live Messenger as an option selectable from the Start Menu of Build 5506, according to another screen shot of the new build. It's not clear whether Microsoft is completely replacing the Windows Messenger instant-messaging component that has been integrated in previous Windows builds with Windows Live Messenger, but it appears so.
Microsoft officials would not comment on Build 5506 and declined to say when technical testers would receive a refreshed Vista test build.
Windows Live is a growing collection of software-service add-ons for Windows. Microsoft officials said there are about 20 such services, but a recent tally of Windows Live services and sites indicates the real number is in excess of 40.
Windows Live Messenger is the successor to MSN Messenger, Microsoft's free instant-messaging service. Windows Live OneCare is the paid, subscription-based backup and security service the company launched in late May. Windows Live Toolbar is a collection of Windows Live search, antivirus, mapping and other utilities similar to the Google Toolbar. Windows Live Mail Desktop is a program that allows users to view mail from all of their various e-mail accounts in a single pane.
Microsoft is expected to distribute an interim build to a pre-selected group of technical and Technology Adoption Program (TAP) testers only. This build will likely be the last test build that Microsoft will release externally before it rolls out Release Candidate (RC) 1.
RC1 will be a near-final build of Vista that Microsoft is planning to make available to millions of testers. According to a recent posting on the Windows Vista team blog, Microsoft plans to make RC1 available to all two-million-plus participants in the Beta 2/Customer Preview Program, as well as to other interested parties.
Testers had been expecting Microsoft to deliver RC1 in late August. They are now predicting Microsoft will roll out RC1 in the first half of September. Publicly, Microsoft officials have not promised anything beyond a "Q'3 2006" delivery date for RC1.
Microsoft officials also are sticking to the ship dates they outlined in March of 2006 for Vista. Microsoft is planning to make Vista available to its volume-license customers in November 2006 and to make the product available through all channels in January 2007, unless quality concerns are sufficient to warrant another delay.
Company watchers have been wondering whether Microsoft would bundle any Windows Live services directly into Windows, given the ongoing antitrust scrutiny to which the company has been subject in recent years, in the U.S. and abroad. The European Commission required Microsoft to offer alongside its standard Windows XP software a separate version of Windows XP that did not include Windows Media Player as an embedded component. In South Korea, Microsoft has faced legal challenges for integrating Windows Media Player and Windows Messenger in Windows XP.
Microsoft's decision whether to integrate Windows Live services into Vista or not "probably has more to do with Microsoft's interpretation of assorted global government restrictions than it does assessments of real-world customer value," said Peter O'Kelly, an analyst with the Burton Group.
"It's not particularly difficult to configure Live offerings, just as it's not difficult to change default settings, such as IE7's default search provider setting," O'Kelly continued. "As such, I think the Live offerings and their myriad competitors will ultimately compete much more on the basis of their utility than whether they're bundled/integrated into the Windows user experience."
Leaving nothing to chance, Microsoft's OEM unit has been negotiating with PC makers and systems builders to preload certain Windows Live services on new Vista machines, according to Scott Di Valerio, corporate vice president of that unit. While a deal cemented earlier this year between Dell Computer and Google, which involved Dell preloading Google desktop search on certain Dell desktop and laptop units, garnered a lot of headlines, there are similar agreements in the works involving Windows Live preloads, Di Valerio said. Di Valerio declined to provide any further specifics when Microsoft Watch spoke to him in July.
Microsoft has been releasing monthly Vista builds to testers. Many testers said they have seen progress in the performance and stability of the operating system. Nonetheless, last month, some of Microsoft's most visible testers took to their blogs to advocate that Microsoft add an unscheduled Beta 3 to Vista's timetable, claiming Vista was not ready to go to RC1 and needed more time. Other testers have cited application compatibility problems, as well as lack of third-party drivers, as additional proof that Microsoft needs more time to get Vista in shape before releasing it.