For months, high-tech industry seers have predicted that Microsoft won't be able to ship its much-ballyhooed Windows NT 5.0 until at least a year from now - a far cry from the company's original hopes to have the technology on shelves by now.
Those predictions seem to be coming true.
The software giant has added another, third formal beta cycle to the testing of NT 5.0. Earlier this year company officials shifted the release date of Beta 2 of NT 5.0 from the first half of the year to probably July or August.
Microsoft insisted the additional beta plans do not mean the ship date for NT 5.0 has slipped, although they still will not commit to a time frame, saying only that it will be released when they are satisfied it is ready.
"We had always planned to release an interim build after Beta 2, and it seemed confusing to give customers something called a "beta refresh" so we simply decided to call it "Beta 3"," said Mike Nash, group product manager for NT at Microsoft. "We always give interim builds out to customers."
The revised plans represent a marked shift in strategy for Microsoft, where officials have maintained for months that NT 5.0 would need only two formal beta cycles.
Nash said Beta 2 will include Internet Explorer 5.0, which is due to ship by the end of 1998, as well as the full complement of Application Installer and IntelliMirror technology, two key selling points of NT 5.0, as well as most of the Active Directory functionality.
The beta also will include Microsoft's current Windows Terminal Server offering. "The terminal services will be there, but they have not been tested as thoroughly as other areas," Nash said.
"It's really an unknown. NT 5.0 is closer to being a brand new product than anything we've seen from Microsoft; it is larger and there is much more complexity," said Rob Enderle, senior analyst at Giga Information Group. "It's not even clear whether Beta 3 will be the final beta."
Earlier this month, Giga warned against wholesale upgrades to NT 5.0, whenever it is available, predicting that the huge amount of new, complex code will make the technology buggy.