Al Gillen, research VP of system software at IDC, is not entirely convinced that Windows 7 could make the 2009 holiday timeframe even if Microsoft wanted it.
"Let's work backwards to get a reality check," says Gillen. "For Microsoft to make holiday 2009, the product must be released to OEMs by, say, September, or October 1 at the latest. That will be RTM [release to manufacturing] code. Back up to RC2, RC1, Beta 3, Beta 2 and Beta 1, and you are looking at a minimum of an 8-month window."
Gillen said that Microsoft could still make the holiday schedule, but there would be no Beta 3, and possibly no RC2.
"What happens between now and early January will be pretty telling. But keep in mind that Microsoft's early-adopter customers tell Microsoft when they think the product is ready to ship. They can delay it if they feel features are not mature enough," he says.
As far as the tone Microsoft should take with the Windows 7 release, Gillen says the software giant will be cautious because it has been burned too many times on ship dates.
"I think Microsoft is being conservative on its promises and schedules and may be trying not to over-promise. It remains to be seen if they can over-deliver."
Be Flexible and Make Less Noise Than Vista
Roger Kay, president of research firm Endpoint Technologies, said that Microsoft needs to remain open and flexible as it builds to the release of Windows 7, whenever that may be.
"Microsoft, because of its position in the industry, must signal its intentions with lots of warning. So, as the code stabilizes, the company will begin to refine its target ship date," Kay says.
He added that shipping Windows before the 2009 holiday season will be helpful, but it's not critical. "Vista is finally stable and could sustain holiday 2009. But shipping Windows 7 would be nice as a way to stimulate traffic."
Kay stressed that it's also wise for Microsoft to be more low key than it was with the somewhat bombastic unveiling of Vista. "Microsoft should probably not spend on a launch like it did for Vista, but be lower key. Nonetheless, I think uptake for Windows 7 will be much better, since its backend is built on the now-stable Vista, but the front end is much better."
Gartner's Silver contends that Microsoft is on the right path with Windows 7 because it is positioning it as something more than Vista R2. Being on time for holiday 2009 is another way to stay on that path, he says.
Silver concludes: "Where it could get messy for Windows 7 is if the drivers and apps are not ready yet, or they miss the holiday by a few weeks again."