In its manic bid to keep Windows Vista on track despite constant development delays, Microsoft could cancel its eagerly anticipated Beta 2 milestone and simply utilize Community Technical Preview (CTP) releases until Release Candidate 0 (RC0) is ready in March or April 2006. According to my sources, this plan would allow the company to continue plotting the final release of Windows Vista for the third quarter of 2006.

When asked to comment about these plans, however, Microsoft denied that it was canceling Beta 2. "Microsoft is not canceling \[Windows Vista\] Beta 2," a company representative told me, noting that comments by Amitabh Srivastava, the corporate vice president of Windows Core Operating System Development at Microsoft, made during yesterday's conference call with the press, are relevant to this topic. During that call, Srivastava said that Beta was "less urgent" than before because of the company's new engineering process and early CTP feedback.

Microsoft has now rejiggered the Windows Vista development schedule so many times it's almost comical. But the previous major change, in which Windows Vista Beta 2 was delayed from December 7, 2005 to the end of the year and then until January or February 2006, at least kept all of the products major milestones intact. Now, it's clear that the company feels it can get the feedback it needs with CTP builds, which are released in a more timely nature than major beta builds.

Despite yesterday's conference call, in which Microsoft executives promised that users would see a feature-complete build of Windows Vista by the end of 2005, my sources say the company is internally targeting the February 2006 CTP build as the first that testers will see with all features intact. It's possible that Microsoft TAP (Technology Adoption Program) customers will see a feature complete build of Vista as early as January 2006, however.

What's not known, of course, is how this change will affect the public release of a Windows Vista beta build. Previously, Microsoft had promised to make Windows Vista Beta 2 available to the public for broad testing through a preview program. With that release first delayed significantly and now potentially canceled, it's possible that Microsoft will either make the February 2006 CTP or the RC0 milestone available publicly instead. "The internal schedule is still taking shape as we accelerate the feature complete timetable, so we won't be able to share any insights until early next year around milestones like Beta 2 or a preview program," a Microsoft representative told me today.