In an interview with Microsoft co-president Jim Allchin last week, I was told that the software giant was dispensing with traditional development milestones such as Beta 2 and Release Candidate 1 (RC1) for Windows Vista and will instead mark the remainder of that OS's development schedule with Community Technical Preview (CTP) builds. These CTP builds will come out every month or two, and each will typically improve on the previous CTP build in fairly dramatic ways. Since launching the first Vista CTP build in September 2005, Microsoft has shipped CTPs to testers in October and December.

The next CTP is due in mid-February and is what Allchin calls an Enterprise CTP. This CTP will be aimed largely at Microsoft's hundreds of Technology Adoption Program (TAP) partners, as well as traditional beta testers. The Enterprise CTP will be the first public release of Vista to include virtually all the functionality that Microsoft plans for the final release, and is thus interesting for that reason alone. But it will also be the first build to include Windows XP upgrading capabilities, image-based deployment tools, and various other enterprise-related features.

Although Allchin didn't provide a date for the next CTP after that, sources tell me that Microsoft will ship its next Vista CTP, previously called Beta 2, in April. Microsoft will issue that CTP publicly to anyone that wants to kick Vista's tires, and Allchin says he expects millions of customers to give it a shot.

Sometime around mid-2006, Microsoft will issue what might have previously been thought of as an RC release. Then, the company will complete Vista development and ship the product in time for holiday 2006.

The CTP approach is interesting because it relies on more product drops and thus more timely feedback. Allchin told me the CTP system has been highly successful for Vista, but he wasn't sure whether other product groups at Microsoft would change to this system. Longhorn Server, for example, still uses the traditional milestoning approach and will have Beta 2, Beta 3, and various RC releases.

I asked Allchin if he thought whether other groups at Microsoft would pick up on the CTP approach and drop the major milestone schedule. "We're getting a lot of good feedback," he told me. "We'll have to see. Many of the things we think of as platforms are doing CTPs as well. But you still have to designate a CTP for a particular purpose, which is what the beta \[releases\] were for. The difference is that, instead of having a beta and then huge amounts of dead time, and then another huge drop, you have more constant updates. And we think that will speed up the development process."

You can read my entire Jim Allchin interview on the SuperSite for Windows:

Jim Allchin Talks Windows Vista
http://www.winsupersite.com/article/showcase/jim-allchin-talks-windows-vista.aspx

Quick Office 12 Follow-up
Last week, I discussed a few of the problems I've been having with Microsoft Office 12 Beta 1. Although some of these problems can simply be attributed to the fact that Office 12 is several months away from being finalized, one reader did provide a solution for one of the concerns I wrote about: I had noted that although Office Word 12 keeps a running total of the document count in the status bar of the Word window, it doesn't change when you select text, and I couldn't figure out a way to get a word count on selected text. It turns out there is a way: Simply double-click the word count area of the status bar, and you'll get the old Word 2003-style word count.

I'm glad this functionality is possible, but this is a just one example of the type of retraining that many users will face when they move to Office 12. I still feel that the new Office 12 UI will make the suite more accessible to a wider range of users, but it's becoming increasingly clear that regular Office users will face some retraining.

In an interview with Microsoft co-president Jim Allchin last week, I was told that the software giant was dispensing with traditional development milestones such as Beta 2 and Release Candidate 1 (RC1) for Windows Vista and will instead mark the remainder of that OS's development schedule with Community Technical Preview (CTP) builds. These CTP builds will come out every month or two, and each will typically improve on the previous CTP build in fairly dramatic ways. Since launching the first Vista CTP build in September 2005, Microsoft has shipped CTPs to testers in October and December.

The next CTP is due in mid-February and is what Allchin calls an Enterprise CTP. This CTP will be aimed largely at Microsoft's hundreds of Technology Adoption Program (TAP) partners, as well as traditional beta testers. The Enterprise CTP will be the first public release of Vista to include virtually all the functionality that Microsoft plans for the final release, and is thus interesting for that reason alone. But it will also be the first build to include Windows XP upgrading capabilities, image-based deployment tools, and various other enterprise-related features.

Although Allchin didn't provide a date for the next CTP after that, sources tell me that Microsoft will ship its next Vista CTP, previously called Beta 2, in April. Microsoft will issue that CTP publicly to anyone that wants to kick Vista's tires, and Allchin says he expects millions of customers to give it a shot.

Sometime around mid-2006, Microsoft will issue what might have previously been thought of as an RC release. Then, the company will complete Vista development and ship the product in time for holiday 2006.

The CTP approach is interesting because it relies on more product drops and thus more timely feedback. Allchin told me the CTP system has been highly successful for Vista, but he wasn't sure whether other product groups at Microsoft would change to this system. Longhorn Server, for example, still uses the traditional milestoning approach and will have Beta 2, Beta 3, and various RC releases.

I asked Allchin if he thought whether other groups at Microsoft would pick up on the CTP approach and drop the major milestone schedule. "We're getting a lot of good feedback," he told me. "We'll have to see. Many of the things we think of as platforms are doing CTPs as well. But you still have to designate a CTP for a particular purpose, which is what the beta \[releases\] were for. The difference is that, instead of having a beta and then huge amounts of dead time, and then another huge drop, you have more constant updates. And we think that will speed up the development process."

You can read my entire Jim Allchin interview on the SuperSite for Windows:

Jim Allchin Talks Windows Vista
http://www.winsupersite.com/article/showcase/jim-allchin-talks-windows-vista.aspx

Quick Office 12 Follow-up
Last week, I discussed a few of the problems I've been having with Microsoft Office 12 Beta 1. Although some of these problems can simply be attributed to the fact that Office 12 is several months away from being finalized, one reader did provide a solution for one of the concerns I wrote about: I had noted that although Office Word 12 keeps a running total of the document count in the status bar of the Word window, it doesn't change when you select text, and I couldn't figure out a way to get a word count on selected text. It turns out there is a way: Simply double-click the word count area of the status bar, and you'll get the old Word 2003-style word count.

I'm glad this functionality is possible, but this is a just one example of the type of retraining that many users will face when they move to Office 12. I still feel that the new Office 12 UI will make the suite more accessible to a wider range of users, but it's becoming increasingly clear that regular Office users will face some retraining.