On Tuesday, Microsoft finally announced its plans for shipping Windows Vista Release Candidate 1 (RC1) to more than five million people around the world. And in various RC1-related briefings, the company also talked about some of its plans for the final version of Vista for the first time.
Although Microsoft hasn't publicly committed to a date, it still plans to complete the final version of Vista on or before October 25, 2006. The term final, in this case, however, is a misnomer. Microsoft will certainly find problems with the so-called release to manufacturing (RTM) code between late October and the expected January public release, and will most certainly ship various hotfixes and other updates for the system via Windows Update during that time.
In a briefing last week, Microsoft Product Manager Chris Flores also hinted that the software company has a surprise of some sort in store for Vista customers. "We're not going to just sit around between RTM and the public release," he told me, refusing to elaborate. "We'll have a few surprises by January." (It's also worth noting that Microsoft will issue a major kernel update to Vista in Service Pack 1 (SP1) by the end of 2007 to bring the system's internals up-to-date with the Longhorn Server kernel. It's unknown whether Vista SP1 will also include major new user features.) Microsoft plans to schedule separate launch events for the business and consumer launches of Vista, although details of those events are in flux.
Microsoft also used the RC1 announcement to admit that recently published reports about the pricing of various Vista product versions are correct. Depending on the version, Vista will set customers back $89.95 to $399.00, a range that's identical to that of corresponding Windows XP versions. Prices for PC bundles, of course, will be significantly less. Various Microsoft representatives have confided that they now expect Vista Home Premium to be the volume version of the product. This version is roughly analogous to XP Media Center Edition and offers numerous digital-media advances. Please refer to "Windows Vista Pricing Revealed" on the SuperSite for Windows for more information about Vista pricing.
Regarding the timing of the release, Microsoft is confident that it can continue to meet its current schedule, although the company is careful not to appear overly optimistic. Various Microsoft representatives have noted in recent days that the initial reaction to RC1 has been largely positive but that the company will delay Vista further if feedback justifies it. It's hard to keep track of the number of times Vista has been delayed because the company originally planned to ship Vista in 2003.
If you're still waiting to gain access to RC1, the wait is almost over. Microsoft tells me that it shipped RC1 to testers and various close partners on Friday and that it will ship the build to MSDN, TechNet, and the Customer Preview Program (CPP) in the coming days. The company is also going to open the CPP to more customers, so users who didn't join for Beta 2 will be able to test the new version now. Microsoft expects more than five million people to evaluate Vista RC1, if magazine bundles are considered.
Following RC1, testers can expect a few more interim builds, but RC1 will likely be the final major milestone that's shipped to numerous customers. Microsoft still plans to ship Vista to its volume-license business customers by the end of the year--a slight rewording from its original November 2006 pledge--and to consumers by the end of January 2007. Amazon.com reports on its Web site that Vista will ship January 30, 2007, but Microsoft won't confirm that date. However, the company does admit that it will offer a coupon to customers who purchase XP-based PCs this holiday season so that they can upgrade to Vista at a discount price once it's released. Details of this plan remain sketchy.
As always, stay tuned to the SuperSite for Windows for the latest Vista RC1 information.