Microsoft Corporation told its partners and biggest customers this week that it will release Windows 2000 to manufacturing by the end of 1999 as planned, and the company will use Fall Comdex 1999 as the springboard for launching the product as previously reported in WinInfo. And because Microsoft's manufacturing process typically takes 6-8 weeks, the company expects to have Windows 2000 in retail stores by mid-February.

"Microsoft is committed to delivering the best business operating system for the next generation of PC computing and we are thrilled that customers and partners can build their plans around the general availability of Windows 2000," said Deborah Willingham, vice president of the Business Enterprise Division at Microsoft. "While we are working closely with the industry to prepare solutions for retail availability in mid-February, we stand firm on our commitment to release Windows 2000 only when our early-adopter customers agree it's ready."

So the news is clear: Windows 2000 will RTM "before Christmas 1999," according to company officials. Sometime between now and then, a Release Candidate 3 (RC3) build will be made available to its Rapid Deployment Partners (RDP), Joint Deployment Partners (JDP), and technical beta testers. This build, which will not be given to MSDN subscribers or Corporate Preview Program (CPP) customers, could conceivably be declared as final whenever it appears. Current builds of Windows 2000 are said to be "near final" in quality.

Though many news sites are trumpeting "February 15th" as the "release date," it's worth mentioning that this is not a delay of any kind. Microsoft has only promised that it would release Windows 2000 to manufacturing by the end of 1999 and they're still on track to meet this goal.

Microsoft will market Windows 2000 using four key improvements: integrated Internet-enabled capabilities, reliability, manageability, and "best platform for new hardware.