Does Microsoft Need to Ship Windows 7 in 2009?

Industry analysts differ on the importance of shipping Microsoft's Windows 7 operating system before the 2009 holidays, but agree that the release of the OS needs to be swift and smooth to avoid the sins of Vista's past.

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Wed, November 12, 2008

CIOMicrosoft officially says it will ship the Windows 7 operating system within three years of the January 2007 consumer release of Windows Vista. But speculation abounds that the software giant is gunning to ship halfway through 2009 to be on machines for the back-to-school and holiday seasons.

Microsoft has hinted, whether intentionally or by accident, at a 2009 Windows 7 release by saying on its WinHEC website that, "WinHEC [2008] is the only chance for you to engage with the team at this level—there is not another WinHEC planned before Windows 7 is released." This is eyebrow-raising given that the next WinHEC is scheduled for early May 2009.

Adding to the bits of evidence that Windows 7 will ship early is a slip of the tongue from Jerry Shen, CEO of Windows OEM Asus, who said in a recent interview: "In the second half of next year we will put Windows 7 on Eee PCs."

No matter when Windows 7 actually ships, industry analysts agree that the marketing and release of 7 needs to go off without a hitch to avoid the problems encountered during the tumultuous release of Windows Vista.

Gartner: The Earlier the Better

Gartner Research has predicted that Microsoft will ship Windows 7 in time for the 2009 holiday season, which would require shipment to take place around August 2009.

"It's much better for a new version of Windows to ship before the holidays than after," says Michael Silver, a vice president and research director at Gartner. "After the holidays there are all sorts of problems with advertising the new release to consumers because ads can't start before the holiday because they might suppress PC sales."

Silver expects that Microsoft will try to differentiate Windows 7 from Vista by keeping ship date hype to a minimum and then delivering earlier than anticipated.

"If they don't give a date, it's harder for people to say they were late," he says. "This is more of a point release than a major 'dot zero' release, like Windows XP. And Windows XP shipped 18 months after Windows 2000. So 30-something months should really be doable [for Windows 7]."

But Can Windows 7 Make the Holiday Deadline?

Al Gillen, research VP of system software at IDC, is not entirely convinced that Windows 7 could make the 2009 holiday timeframe even if Microsoft wanted it.

"Let's work backwards to get a reality check," says Gillen. "For Microsoft to make holiday 2009, the product must be released to OEMs by, say, September, or October 1 at the latest. That will be RTM [release to manufacturing] code. Back up to RC2, RC1, Beta 3, Beta 2 and Beta 1, and you are looking at a minimum of an 8-month window."

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