Speaking at Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2006, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer yesterday promised that customers would never again have to wait so long for a Windows upgrade. Ballmer was referring to Windows Vista, which will ship more than five years after its predecessor, Windows XP, and at least three years later than originally expected.

"Vista's \[been\] a long time in the making but \[is\] absolutely a blockbuster release," Ballmer said. "I think it's probably important for me to tell our partners to rest assured we will never have a gap between Windows releases as long as the one between XP and Windows Vista. Count on it. I could go through the history of how we got here. Just count on it, we will never have this kind of gap again."

Microsoft still plans to finalize Vista in late October 2006, then ship volume-license versions of the OS to its business customers in November. A consumer and retail launch of the product is still expected in January 2007. But given recent delays in Office 2007, which is seen as a companion product of sorts to Vista, many are concerned that Microsoft will delay Vista yet again.

Separately, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, in Cape Town, South Africa, for a different partner conference, noted that there was only an "80 percent chance" that Vista would make its January release date. "We've got to get this absolutely right," he said. "If the feedback from the beta tests shows it is not ready for prime time, I'd be glad to delay it."