"We will use a quality-based schedule rather than a calendar one going forward, since artificially setting dates for CTP releases is not helpful, as these are valuable tools," Amitabh Srivastava, Microsofts corporate vice president for Windows core operating system development, said in a media conference call on Tuesday.
The move to clarify its position regarding monthly CTPs came hot on the heels of complaints by developers that Microsoft was being anything but transparent about the program and its future.
CTPs, pioneered by Microsofts developer division with Visual Studio, are interim pre-release versions of a product that are not beta quality.
They represent a snapshot of a product under development at a given time, and are meant for developers and testers who are not afraid to be on the bleeding edge.
The Redmond, Wash., software maker has also accelerated the development of the feature set for Windows Vista, and expects to have most of these features complete by the end of December. They would then be integrated into the product early next year, Srivastava said.
The development teams has thus been refocused on releasing a CTP before the December holidays, which would include a number of new features, he said, declining to elaborate, and saying that further details would be given at a later time.
Srivastava added, "But these changes will result in customers getting a feature-complete version of Vista earlier than for any other Windows product. As such, the focus has been taken off the CTP for November and, as this did not go through the full quality push, it will only be released to those in Microsofts Technology Adopter Program, a mix of customers and partners."
Srivastava also said there had also been no slip in the release schedule for Windows Vista, which is still on track for release in the second half of 2006. It is using a new engineering process that is front-loaded and verifies the quality of code before it is integrated into the product.
This process was developed through the Programmer Productivity Research Center, now known as the Center for Software Excellence, which was established a number of years ago to look at how tools could be used to automate the way the performance and reliability of code is reviewed.
All Vista code now has to pass a minimum quality bar, which ensures that good-quality daily Windows Vista builds can be released for testing internally at Microsoft, he said, adding that the project is also tracked using a detailed series of metrics.
All of this means that more people are testing the Vista code than ever before, given the CTPs that shipped in September and October and that brought additional feedback, along with the move to accelerate development to get most features complete by the end of December and to get them integrated into the product early next year.
Microsoft is also requiring a clean install of every CTP, Srivastava said, adding that one would not be able to be installed on top of another. He declined to give information about the time frame for the second Vista beta, saying that the release of regular CTPs and other testing moves made that beta less urgent.
"There is already aggressive Vista testing underway inside Microsoft, with Beta One and through the CTPs," he said.