To talk about the potential release of Windows 2000 is to wade through the semantics and vagaries of the software industry.
Release Candidate 2 of Windows 2000 is due for release next week, and Microsoft officials are still publicly voicing optimism that the upgrade to Windows NT 4.0 will "ship" by the end of 1999.
Microsoft also plans to host its OEM (original equipment manufacturer) and ISV (independent software vendor) partners at a two-day conference on Windows 2000 in California, beginning September 14.
The sessions there on Windows 2000, the product -- as well as drill-downs on the marketing blitz for that product, which will dominate Microsoft's Comdex presence this November -- are aimed at getting the partners on board to help push the operating system into the enterprise.
Two sources, both Microsoft partners, said the company will formally launch Windows 2000 in January. One source said that Microsoft would make a "soft announcement" by the end of the year to cushion the public relations blow.
The other source said that by the time January rolls around -- when Microsoft will follow in Apple Computer's "1984" footsteps by launching the product during the Super Bowl -- Windows 2000 finally will be in the channel, but just barely.
Just last week, appearing at Dell Computer's user conference in Austin, Texas, Microsoft Chairman and CEO Bill Gates said he was "pretty sure" Windows 2000 would be ready by the end of the year.
"We are very close to the final shipment," Gates said.
Despite this, exactly what the high-tech industry will see by the end of 1999 from Microsoft is still uncertain -- "gold code" released to manufacturing or boxes of Windows 2000 Server and Professional on shelves?
Released to manufacturing is likely; shelves full of Windows 2000 are not, according to observers and sources.
"I'm assuming Windows 2000 will release to manufacturing in October -- which isn't to say Microsoft doesn't still have a lot of work on its hands getting ISVs to commit to timetables for their Windows 2000-ready or -compliant apps," said Dwight Davis, an analyst at Summit Strategies in Washington.