Microsoft plans to make a much-needed repair to a hole in its operating-system migration path, the Windows 3.1 to Windows 98 upgrade, but this news comes amid signs that the OS coveted by enterprise customers - Windows NT 5.0 - is being pushed even further into the future.
For weeks Microsoft has been promising delivery of the first beta version of NT 5.0 at its Professional Developers Conference (PDC), which begins September 22 in San Diego. But it is unlikely that what developers receive at the conference will resemble beta code, sources close to Microsoft said.
"This will definitely be alpha code," said one analyst who requested anonymity. "It isn't close to a beta cycle yet."
Despite Microsoft senior vice president Jim Allchin's public declaration in July that the NT 5.0 beta version would debut at the developers' conference, officials a fortnight ago sounded less committed to that time frame.
Beta still planned
"We are certain we will be able to meet our 1997 milestone for a beta," said Enzo Schiano, NT product manager.
"Whether that's the PDC or not is something we're not discussing at this time."
Meanwhile, Microsoft has committed to delivering a specific upgrade to Windows 98 from Windows 3.1 90 days after Windows 98's release date, currently set for the first quarter of 1998.
With Windows 3.1 still widely in use throughout the corporate world, Microsoft officials have turned up the heat in recent weeks to ensure that a smooth migration path to Windows 98 is available - particularly because there will be no path from Windows 3.1 to Windows NT.
"We've had a lot of customer feedback about a 3.1 upgrade. There's been a lot of concern that there will be one," said Stacey Breyfogle, a Windows product manager. "We're working now on the delta. It will be three months."
Although it would be possible to move from Windows 3.1 to Windows 98 without this specific upgrade path, that migration would force users over a treacherous trail.
"Right now, upgrading your Win 3.1 base to Windows 98 is certainly not seamless from a device-driver standpoint and, more importantly, from a FAT-32 and applications standpoint," said John Dunkle, president of Workgroup Strategic Services.