Microsoft has been marketing the hell out of Windows NT 5.0 since last summer, but glitches, bugs, and an inability to ship core features to beta testers has some wondering whether the release will ever see the light of day. Microsoft recently delayed the new version of NT, originally due in later 1997, to late 1998, and most people expect the final release to be delayed again, until 1999.

"NT 5.0 is something Microsoft started talking about in 1993, saying they'd ship it by 1996," said an anonymous source at a major Microsoft OEM. "Now we'll be lucky to see it by 1998."

Microsoft has had problems shipping almost every major piece of software its developed lately, dating back to the 2+ years of delay for Windows 95. BackOffice products such as SQL Server 7.0 and Internet Information Server (IIS) 4.0 have suffered massive delays as well, as Microsoft attempts to move into the lucrative enterprise market. I was shown a beta of IIS 4.0 (then known as K2) at the Microsoft campus in January, and assured it would be released that quarter. It still has yet to ship.

Windows 98, like Windows 95 before it, has been delayed numerous times. Now scheduled for a mid-1998 release, the product was once expected in time for this Christmas season. Internet Explorer 4.0, the most important release of

Microsoft's Web browser, and the first to integrate itself with the operating system "shell," was originally due late last year. I attended a Microsoft Web developer event in July 1996, where Microsoft asked us to support IE 4.0 features such as Site Map and Dynamic Themes. These features never made it into the final product, which was changed significantly almost six months after the event. The lack of communication from Microsoft in this time period was astounding.

All these delays put Microsoft in a strange position. They have to sell the current products, which look sickly in some cases when compared to the cool new features in upcoming versions (for example, Outlook 97 vs. Outlook 98). On the other hand, they must actively discuss upcoming versions to build excitement and show various markets that the company is on the right track. In some cases, showing beta and pre-beta software to users keeps them from buying competing software while they wait for the next Microsoft release.

At Fall Comdex, Microsoft showed various builds of Windows 98 to hundreds of thousands of people, none of whom can get their hands on the product until Microsoft releases a public beta in early 1998. Microsoft has been showing Windows 98 at public trade shows since late 1997. Also shown at Comdex: IntelliMirror, a feature of Windows NT 5.0 that is not available in the current beta. IntelliMirror will appear in Beta 2, now delayed until the "first half of 1998." Many users of Windows NT 5.0 are joking referring to the release as "Windows NT 4.1," since it is so lacking in new features. Users I've spoken to say the release was rushed to meet a developer conference deadline.

"\[Microsoft\] talks about something as if it is a done deal, but then turns around and releases a buggy, incomplete product," said NT 5.0 beta tester Jeff Terinhoff to PC Week. "I want to see the technology come out rock-solid and stable.