After Delay, RC2 is on the Way
- By Scott Bekker
Reminiscent of the old television commercial in which Orson Welles smoothly quipped, "We will sell no wine before its time," Microsoft Corp. has been saying that Windows 2000 will not be sold until it is ready for deployment. The company is sticking to its word, consequently delaying the availability of the second release candidate (RC2). But now the wait is over.
Microsoft released the second release candidate for Windows 2000 in the middle of this month. The company’s internal goal for RC2’s availability was sometime during the week before Labor Day, according to Keith White, Microsoft’s marketing director for the business and enterprise division.
Instead of issuing RC2 before Labor Day, the company put the first release candidate into what it calls escrow -- a lock down for five to 10 days in which there are no new daily builds. During the testing process, Microsoft creates a new build of the software every day at 3 p.m., usually adding bug fixes or tweaking parts of the OS daily.
"We test it for a period without changing the code, just to make sure that particular build is tested thoroughly and for longer than one day," White says.
White claims that RC1 was held in escrow because a number of customers plan to implement RC2 into production environments, thus the company wanted RC2 to be as solid as possible.
These customers participate in either Microsoft’s Joint Development Program or Rapid Deployment Program. Although Microsoft is reluctant to reveal company names associated with either program, White says a number of customers are already running RC1 in production environments. Microsoft expects the number of companies adding RC2 to production environments will expand and that companies running RC1 will use the second release candidate on a broader base of servers and desktops within their networks.
"This is a critical time for us to get real feedback, so we decided to hold it in escrow," White says.
James Gruener, managing director of Windows 2000 platforms at the market research firm Aberdeen Group (www.aberdeen.com), says Microsoft is thoroughly scrutinizing the operating system.
"Microsoft is being very picky about the architecture," he says. "This has a lot to do with tweaking the code so it will be closer to being ready to ship by the end of the year."
Microsoft is encouraging Beta 3 users to upgrade to RC1 or RC2 as RTM code will not support a direct upgrade from the third beta version. The company plans to ship RC2 to 650,000 of its customers that are using Beta 3.
The changes to RC2 include fit and finish work, such as tweaking wizard windows or awkward dialog boxes and updating administration tools -- all of which are the result of customer requests -- and broader hardware and software support. Microsoft also adjusted the code to enhance performance and reliability.
"We expect this to be the last major release candidate before we release to manufacturing," White says. "There may be a third release candidate, but it won’t be major, and it may be only for a subset of beta testers. We won’t send it out to all 600,000-plus beta sites."
The obvious question is whether the final shipping date will be impacted by the delay of RC2. Months ago, reports stated that Oct. 6 was Redmond’s internal goal; more recent reports point to a Comdex launch in November, or even a Comdex announcement that Windows 2000 has been released to manufacturing.
Neither Gruener nor other analysts would speculate as to a final shipping date, or even if the product will reach shelves this year.
Microsoft is unwilling to name any dates for the final version, but in late August company chairman and CEO Bill Gates said at Dell Computer Corp.’s DirectConnect conference that the company is pretty sure the builds will be finished by year’s end.
Builds being finished, however, does not mean the product will be in stores.
"The goal is to release it to manufacturing by the end of the year, and then get it ready to ship as soon as possible after that," Microsoft’s White says.
In the past it has taken Microsoft six weeks after the code is complete to press the CDs, finalize the documentation, shrink wrap the product and get it into the channel and onto shelves. --Thomas Sullivan
Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.