In spite of the vague public wording around its Windows Vista and Office 2007 release plans, Microsoft is continuing to tell its hardware and software partners that its goal is to release the two products simultaneously in January.
In March, Microsoft announced publicly that it would not meet internal deadlines that would allow it to launch Vista and Office 2007 before the end of 2006, as the company had been planning. Then, in late June, Microsoft officials acknowledged that the company's internal Office 2007 release dates had slipped and instead of delivering the product to businesses in October, it would commit to doing so by end of calendar 2006.
At the time Microsoft announced the new Office delay, it also changed its public tune on when it planned its Office 2007 retail launch. Instead of promising a January 2007 launch date, Microsoft officials said they would commit to an "early 2007" launch for Office 2007. That change in wording led many to speculate that Office 2007 would launch some time after Vista.
The June Office delay also set off speculation that Microsoft would push back the Windows Vista launch to coincide with the unspecified, later Office 2007 launch date. Chairman Bill Gates' pronouncement last week that he was about 80 percent sure that Vista will launch in January didn't help clarify matters.
But at last week's Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft officials were singing a different tune, yet again. Officials on both the OEM and Office sides of the house said that Microsoft was proceeding full-steam-ahead to launch Vista and Office 2007 together in January 2007.
Microsoft is preparing to release to its Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) and TechNet subscribers a new Vista build some time in the next couple of weeks, company officials said last week.
Corporate Vice President of Windows Marketing Michael Sievert publicly stated on July 11 that Microsoft would release to testers a new interim Vista build in the next week. Later, company representatives said the build, which will consist almost exclusively of bug fixes, would be more likely to hit in the next week or two, most likely by the end of July. On July 17, Microsoft released the code, in the form of Build 5472, to testers.
Sievert and other officials reconfirmed that Microsoft is still on track to deliver the near-final Release Candidate 1 (RC1) of Vista to testers some time in the third calendar quarter of 2006.
If Vista and Office 2007 both stay their current courses, a dual-launch in January is still in the cards, officials said repeatedly last week.
"Office and Vista together is a high-margin business for these guys," said Scott Di Valerio, corporate vice president of Microsoft's OEM division.
For now, at least, Microsoft is telling its PC maker and system builder partners to plan for a January launch of Vista and Office 2007 together, Di Valerio said.
Di Valerio told Microsoft Watch last week that July is the date when OEMs typically need to have firm ship schedules in order to stock the holiday channel with preloaded PCs. Microsoft officials acknowledged in March that neither Vista nor Office 2007 would be released to manufacturing in time for all OEMs to preload them on new systems this year.
But Microsoft's PC-maker partners are looking for concrete details on the tech guarantees with which they can provide holiday shoppers who want coupons for Vista-ready PCs, Di Valerio said. Microsoft is not saying publicly what kinds of deals it plans to provide consumers wanting coupons for Vista-ready PCs, other than that the company will make some kind of coupon plan available to its partners.
"OEMs know our plan of record," Di Valerio said, when asked for further specifics on Microsoft's tech-guarantee plans.
Chris Capossela, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Business Division – the part of the company charged with developing, testing and marketing Office – also confirmed Microsoft's plan is still to launch Vista and Office 2007 together.
Capossela told Microsoft Watch last week that the Office team intentionally decided to keep its wording about its launch timing somewhat vague in order to head off yet another round of "Office is delayed" stories if Microsoft ultimately decides to push back the January dual launch plans.
Capossela said he had learned his lesson the hard way by promising publicly in March that Office 2007 would be available to volume licensees by October 2006. If Microsoft had committed at that time to a "fourth quarter 2006" business delivery date, the company would not have had to reset its Office timetable in June, he admitted.
According to sources Microsoft is leaning toward holding some kind of a business launch of Office 2007 and Vista this fall, with the larger, full-fledged launch coming in January.