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Microsoft Blends Windows Vista Beta Test with Preview Programs

As Windows Vista grinds ever closer to commercial release, Microsoft has begun converging its beta test program and its technology preview program for customers.

In the process, the lines between beta test releases are becoming somewhat blurred. In an e-mail, a company spokesperson acknowledged that the next Community Technology Preview or CTP will come out “most likely in February.” That release Microsoft is calling the “enterprise CTP,” and it will be the first release where the code is “feature complete,” the spokesperson said.

The company also plans another CTP as well as a broader “customer preview program” (or CPP) – both in the second quarter. Meanwhile, executives continue to state that, despite significant changes in short term schedules and the beta process itself, Vista is still on track for final delivery for the holiday season of 2006.

Microsoft’s beta testing process has morphed a lot since last summer, when the company released Beta 1 of Vista, as well as its first CTP release. Initially, the plan was to release a new CTP every month.

However, that plan didn’t last long. In November, the company redrew the schedule for the CTPs, to base their releases on quality milestones. Translation – forget the short-term, calendar-driven schedule, Microsoft will ship new releases based on achieving quality levels.

Now, the CTPs will be a part of the beta test. One early sign of this came in December when Microsoft shipped the most recent CTP. That CTP release went out to all participants in the Vista technical beta program.

“The CTPs are considered parts of a broader phase in the Windows Vista development process, in this case, Beta 2” the spokesperson said. “The Beta 2 phase of Windows Vista’s development will culminate with the release of another CTP in the second quarter of this calendar year.”

Also in the second quarter, Microsoft plans to send the near final code out to a broad range of customers in what it calls its CPP, though the company gave few details and says more information will be unveiled as that release gets nearer.

“Once we have completed the Beta 2 phase of Windows Vista’s development, we will move into the Release Candidate (RC) phase, in which we will continue to incorporate feedback from the CTPs and the CPP, and prepare Windows Vista for final release,” the spokesperson’s e-mail said.

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.

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