According to very recent internal Microsoft documentation, the software giant is planning an aggressive release schedule for several products over the next year or so. I've come across the release schedules for Windows Vista (codenamed "Longhorn"), WinFS, and SQL Server 2005 (codenamed "Yukon"). Here's what I found out.

Windows Vista

Despite rumors to the contrary, but in keeping with the schedule I first published on the SuperSite for Windows months ago, Microsoft is planning to ship Windows Vista Beta 2 in late 2005, not in early 2006. According to internal documentation I recently reviewed, Vista Beta 2 is scheduled to be "feature complete" by September 29, 2005. Then, Vista Beta 2 will enter lockdown mode between October and November 9, 2005. After that date, Beta 2 will be in escrow. Microsoft now plans to ship Windows Vista Beta 2 on December 7, 2005, about three weeks later than the last schedule I obtained.

What about post-Beta 2? According to a second set of documentation I viewed Monday, Microsoft will ship Windows Vista Release Candidate 0 (RC0) on April 19, 2006, and Windows Vista RC1 on June 28, 2006. Microsoft currently plans to release Windows Vista to manufacturing on August 9, 2006, and make the product broadly available by November 15, 2006.

Longhorn Server

Except for the RTM (release to manufacturing) date, all of those dates apply to Longhorn Server as well. But once we hit summer 2006, Longhorn Server will fork from the Windows Vista client release schedule. We'll see an RC2 release of Longhorn Server on October 18, 2006, and then the RTM release on January 10, 2007, according to the latest documentation. That is a far sooner release date than previously anticipated.

WinFS

Microsoft surprised a lot of people by shipping WinFS Beta 1 Monday, and as it turns out, the project is suddenly well ahead of schedule. I've seen two contradictory schedules for WinFS. In the more recent schedule, WinFS Beta 1 will be followed by at least one Community Technology Preview (CTP) release, which is currently due on February 15, 2006. Then, on May 1, 2006, Microsoft is scheduled to release WinFS Beta 2. Beta 3 is currently scheduled for November 15, 2006, with a Beta 3 Refresh release expected in April 2007. WinFS is currently scheduled for RTM in Q3 2007, well after Longhorn Server.

SQL Server 2005

SQL Server 2005 will ship within months. On September 13, 2005, the first day of the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) 2005, Microsoft will announce that SQL Server 2005 has hit the Release Candidate 1 (RC1) milestone, and the company will place the code into escrow in anticipation of the final release. However, PDC attendees will not be getting RC1: Instead, they will get a specially forked, near-final version of SQL Server 2005 that was prepared over two internal CTP releases in May and September 2005. The English language version of SQL Server 2005 is currently expected to RTM on October 14, 2005, about three weeks before its public launch. Other language versions will ship in December 2005 and January 2006.

Because software development is an iffy proposition, and many of these dates are quite a ways out, it's likely that Microsoft will miss targets and have to adjust accordingly. But for now, these are the most recent schedules for the products listed above. Plan accordingly.