On Tuesday, Microsoft representatives gathered virtually with beta testers and the press in separate online chats in order to communicate their progress with the Windows Vista beta. Recently, it has been revealed that the oft-delayed Windows Vista has been stung by even further delays: The Beta 2 milestone, originally scheduled for December 2005, has been pushed back to the first quarter of 2006, Microsoft says. But the company maintains that it is still on track for a late 2006 release.

"We are committed to delivering a high quality Windows Vista product to customers in the second half of 2006," a Microsoft representative told me Tuesday, adding that the final release date was yet to be determined. "We will use a quality-based schedule, and not a calendar-based schedule to determine the final release of the product."

Microsoft also revealed that Vista will be code-complete by the end of December. Microsoft beta coordinator Paul Donnelly explained what this means. "We will focus mostly on bug fixes once we get to code complete," he wrote. "All feedback is considered and may result design changes if it's warranted. Those things are weighed case by case." Note that the December CTP will not be feature complete. Instead, Windows Vista will be feature complete shortly after the December CTP release; an early 2006 CTP will be the first feature-complete Vista version testers will see.

In a call with the press, Microsoft representatives noted that the December CTP feature set will be revealed in a later call next month. In response to a rather lame set of tester questions in the earlier chat, Microsoft noted that the December CTP would include the final version of .NET Framework 2.0 and an updated SDK (Software Development Kit), which programmers can use to write applications and services that target Windows Vista, Microsoft says. That CTP build will also include working phone activation, System Restore, and Media Center, better drive support, and possibly a new startup screen. (Yes, I realize those aren't exactly tier-one features, but that's what beta testers actually asked about, go figure.)

Beta testers were upset to learn that Microsoft TAP (Technology Adoption Program) customers received a newer build of Vista, build 5259, than testers had. Rather than reprint the rather flip response Microsoft provided to questions about this issue, suffice to say that beta testers were told to wait for the December CTP and to continue providing feedback on the October CTP in the meantime.