I seem to be the only one surprised by this move. I was of the opinion that Microsoft could not afford to delay Vista's release any further and that they knew it and so would move Heaven and earth to get it out to manufacturers (at least) in time for them to offer it during the holiday buying season. It is a mystery to me how Microsoft, making billions upon billions in profits with what in any other industry would be considered piddling costs, cannot hire enough quality workers to get products out on time and maintain those already released in a timely manner. Are they so financially mean they cannot stand to hire adequate staff? Sometimes it seems that way.
MS has already been deeply embarrassed by having to pull major features out of the release plans and announcing they would be added later, as circumstances permitted. Most damaging of these subtractions was WinFS, once touted as a major reason to upgrade (and perhaps THE reason to upgrade in servers). By all accounts, WinFS is a cutting edge file system, more robust, more versatile and of a higher performance level than anything offered for the x86 architecture to date. It wasn't just Microsoft flaks saying that, either. Reputable computer scientists were telling us things like that, as well. With my (admittedly limited) understanding of such things, I thought very highly of WinFS, too.
How they arrived at the current release plans is something of a mystery, too. Perhaps one has to be a billionaire to grasp them, which I most assuredly am not. They're going to release it to their Software Assurance clients first. then release to manufacturers (RTM) sometime after that.
I can see where MS might feel the need to placate that group of clients. When Software Assurance was announced, MS told anyone who would listen that the higher prices charged under the plan would be buying special services, updates, support and more. None of these promises have been delivered upon. At least not to the extent that could quell, or even moderate, the continuous grumbling by the customers involved. Ostensibly, this release pattern is to allow enterprises to begin testing for their own deployments. However, releasing to this group alone after so many problems and delays makes it look as if MS is going to be having enterprise clients doing their beta testing for them and more than one IT honcho I know has voiced exactly that sentiment. It isn't going to happen that way. What CIO or CTO is going to begin expensive and intensive deployment testing on an operating system with a partial feature set? Am I the only one sensing the discontinuity here?
Rumor has it that documentation and even scripts for support personnel are as late as Vista itself, or worse. If that is true, and Vista debuts to a skeletal support structure, the fur will fly. Another reason to release to only the largest clients, I guess. MS can and frequently does send "factory" support people to those outfits and they are probably planning on doing a lot of that until the infrastructure for more distant types of support is in place.
So far; not much has been heard on the subject from OEMs and ODMs; the people who actually put together the computers. It might be that they fear retribution from Microsoft if they protest or it might simply be they feel it better to say nothing rather than risk exploding and saying all. Either way, or some other way entirely, they must be very disappointed. They are going to be missing the most intense buying period of the year; the holiday season. Sure, they will sell a goodly number of PCs, but not the premium priced (and profitable) ones able to run Vista's AeroGlass interface in all it's glory. And savvy buyers may well avoid buying a new PC entirely so as not to risk buying a machine that can't run Vista when it gets here and being stuck with XP, which it is certain Microsoft won't want to support too far into the future.
I suspect we will see a lot of machines advertised as "Vista ready" and with either a substantial discount coupon for Vista when it does arrive or the promise of a free upgrade. There will be a lot of uncertainty over this, no matter what the hardware makers do. No doubt MS will concoct some scheme with them. But they are going to have to be brutally honest about exactly which version of Vista will run on the box they sell and make sure the buyers understand correctly. I can see a certain fear factor attached to this which might serve to drive first-time and/or less knowledgeable buyers away from the market until things become easier for them to understand. Remember; package deals with everything included and ready to run is what got these folks into buying computers in the past. The lower prices over the years just accelerated the effect. How these buyers will react to the news that they will have to install or upgrade to a new operating system soon after getting the machine home is anyone's guess. It may take a lot of persuading for the manufacturers and retailers to overcome this. (And we're not sure whether there will be an upgrade path to Vista that does not involve a clean installation. Microsoft hasn't said yet, to the best of my knowledge.)
Microsoft has shaken up the management of the Windows division. Steve Sinofsky, formerly of the Office division, will oversee Windows development. He has a reputation for getting products out the door in good time and in good shape. Perhaps he will be able to make a difference, though it may not be fair to expect too much of him because he is coming so late in the development process. Then again, it may not be as late in the game as we think, if MS thinks they still need almost all of a year to get Vista on the truck.