One of the most frequent questions I receive regards the release date of Windows 2000. As long-time subscribers know, I was the first source on the Internet to publish the "October 6, 1999" RTM date. Both IDG.NET and officials at Microsoft itself confirmed this in March 1999, though the company's official credo has always been that they would ship the product "when their customers tell them its ready."

So here's the deal: October 6th has been a long-standing internal RTM date. And since Microsoft's manufacturing process is 6-8 weeks, this RTM date would allow the company to have Windows 2000 in stores just in time for Fall Comdex, in mid-November, when it's planning a blow-out party extravaganza (another item, interestingly, that was revealed here first, though I noticed that other news agencies are now picking up on this fact).

Will they make it? It's looking doubtful, but I have seen some encouraging signs from Microsoft that Windows 2000 will, in fact, RTM by the end of the year, as they've been promising lately. Just today, for example, Microsoft's Scott McArthur assured its Corporate Preview Program (CPP) customers that the company would RTM this year.

"Microsoft remains on track to RTM Windows 2000 prior to the end of calendar year 1999," he says.

Taken in the context of Bill Gates' own comments last week, it looks like Windows 2000 is on track. But does that mean that Windows 2000 will be in stores in time for Christmas? Probably not: Remember, the key word here is "RTM." This doesn't mean that Windows 2000 will be in stores by the end of the year, only that the code for Windows 2000 will "go gold" (be declared "final") and the product will be released to manufacturing. As I said earlier, this process takes 6-8 weeks. If we assume that Microsoft can deliver (that is, "RTM") Windows 2000 by the end of the year, then the very latest we'll see Windows 2000 in stores is February 14, 2000. But I expect to see it earlier than that. In fact, I'm expecting Microsoft to RTM Windows 2000 by the opening of Comdex so that Gates can at least make the announcement. This would place the in-store availability at the first week of January, perfect timing for product named "Windows 2000."

Time will tell of course. As always, I'll keep you up-to-date on any news that comes in regarding this monumental release. As a final thought, however, I'd like to briefly comment on what lead me to write this up as an article in the first place: I've been corresponding with several people about the difference between RTM and actual in-store availability, and it occurred to me that all the news outlets are going to start carping about how Windows 2000 is "late again" or "delayed further" if we don't see it in stores this year. That's not really the case: Only recently has the term "by the end of the year" entered into public statements by Microsoft, and if you take the time to go back and really understand what's been said, you will see that they're always talking about RTM, not in-store availability. So when the inevitable Chicken Little stories begin appearing, and you know they will, don't buy into the hysteria: So far, Windows 2000 is right on schedule.

--Pau