Testers question stability of latest Vista beta

Another delay may be in the cards for Microsoft operating system.

What began as a murmur a few months back is turning into an audible grumble as beta testers and experts question the stability of the latest Windows Vista beta and Microsoft itself hints at yet another release delay.

Testers and pundits alike say Vista Beta 2, released publicly in June, is plagued by bugs and blue screens. Some testers are saying a Beta 3 cycle, which is not currently planned, may be needed and that the software isn’t ready for final testing before shipment, which Microsoft calls a Release Candidate (RC1).

Microsoft said two weeks ago that RC1 of Vista would ship before the end of September.

Currently, the final release of Vista for corporate customers is targeted for November. But Microsoft’s Kevin Johnson, the co-president of the platform and services division, told financial analysts in late July that while Vista is on schedule the code would not ship until it was ready.

With the current timeline, Microsoft would have just more than a month to collect and incorporate tester’s feedback from RC1 and finalize the code before shipment.

“I have been testing Microsoft operating systems since Windows 95 and this is the buggiest OS I’ve seen this late in development,” says Joe Wilcox, an analyst with Jupiter Research. “Look at the older operating systems, and by Beta 2 there is a stable foundation on which the [independent software vendors] can build on. Right now, Vista is like a ship on stormy seas.”

One ISV who asked not to be named said a private beta it is working with that shipped after Vista Beta 2 is more stable, but is still a memory hog. “The memory consumption has been reduced from a gig to 700MB, which is about three times what XP requires. It is probably going to come down, but it is a big beast.”

The ISV said in terms of enterprise adoption that all of its customers have said they will wait at least a year to adopt the new operating system.

A survey of 207 companies released by Jupiter Research last week shows that nearly 50% of these 100-plus employee outfits either will wait at least 13 months after release to deploy Vista or won’t deploy it at all.

Microsoft’s traditional advocates are also questioning the viability of the software and its release schedule. Robert McLaws, a popular blogger and a Microsoft MVP (non-employees who offer expert analysis on products), said in his blog entry titled “The Entry I Didn’t Want to Write,” that “Beta 2 was a disappointment on many levels. It was nowhere near as stable as it should have been.” McLaws says pushing the launch back four to six weeks with a release in February, adding another beta cycle and coming clean publicly with the new delay may be the best solution for producing “the best version of Windows ever.”

McLaws wasn’t the only one with stern advice for Microsoft. Former Microsoft blogger advocate Robert Scoble used his blog to say, “This sucker is just not ready. It feels like it needs a good six more months . . . which would mean a mid-year release next year.”

Experts say the bottom line is that Microsoft, after five years between major client operating system releases, needs a home run.

“It’s ready when it’s ready, but it better be good when it’s ready or there’ll be hell to pay,” says Tom Henderson, principal researcher for ExtremeLabs and a member of the Network World Lab Alliance. He says there are a lot of issues with the code floating around among testers.

Still others see additional red flags.

“Put the testing aside, I can’t find a valid antivirus software that works with it,” says Michael Cherry, an analyst with research firm Directions on Microsoft. “That is a key application and runs at a core level. If the antivirus vendors, who work closely with Microsoft, can’t get Vista working then the core is not stable.”

“To me, that is the canary in the coal mine,” Cherry says.

Cherry says it might be time to reset expectations because an operating system should no longer be a groundbreaking piece of technology.

“I am impressed with Apple OS and I like the way over the last couple of releases they have made a series of incremental improvements. It has not been earth shattering,” he says.

Vista timeline It's been a long road for Vista since work began on it in 2001.
May 2001Work on Vista, code-named Longhorn, begins. Expected ship date: 2003.
Dec. 31,2001Windows XP Professional ships.
May 2003First development release of Longhorn/Vista for select testers; ship date revised to early 2005.
Aug. 27, 2004Development of Longhorn/Vista halted as project is reset, shifting code base from Windows XP to one used for Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1.
April 24, 2005Longhorn Developer Preview made available at WinHEC 2005 conference.
July 27, 2005Windows Vista Beta 1 released.
Sept. 13, 2005First community technology preview release. CTPs replaced the slower beta-release program. Subsequent CTPs released in October, December and February.
May 23, 2006Windows Vista Beta 2 released to select testers. Released publicly June 6.
September 2006Windows Vista Release Candidate 1 set to ship before end of September.
November 2006Target date for Vista release to business users.
January 2007Target date for Vista release to consumers.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

The 10 most powerful companies in enterprise networking 2022