Ballmer: Future Windows to Arrive Faster

Microsoft Corp.'s customers will never again face as long a wait between new versions of Windows software as they're enduring now, Chief Executive Steve Ballmer vowed Tuesday. Meanwhile, Chairman Bill Gates said the company's much-delayed Vista operating system is likely -- but not guaranteed -- to reach the market by January.

The comments in separate speeches by Microsoft's two top executives came nearly two weeks after the Redmond, Wash.-based company announced a postponement for its Office business software suite, and nearly four months after a similar postponement for Vista.

Product launch delays are not unusual in the software industry, but the wait has been especially long for Vista, which will incorporate features to make Windows more robust as more work is done online with greater need for security. Vista's predecessor, Windows XP, came out in October 2001, when Microsoft didn't face the challenges it now confronts from the likes of Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc.

"I think it's probably important for me to tell our partners that, rest assured, we will never have a gap between Windows releases as long as the one between XP and Windows Vista," Ballmer told thousands of Microsoft product resellers and other clients at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Boston.

"Count on it," Ballmer said. "I can go through the history of how we got through here, but just count on it. We will never have this kind of gap again."

In Cape Town, South Africa, Gates said there was an 80 percent chance that Vista would be ready in January.

However, Gates, the company's co-founder and chairman, said at a presentation to Microsoft software partners that he would delay the launch if testing uncovered shortcomings in prerelease, or beta, versions of the program.

"We got to get this absolutely right," Gates said. "If the feedback from the beta tests shows it is not ready for prime time, I'd be glad to delay it."

He said Microsoft was investing $8 billion to $9 billion in developing Vista and the company's next version of Office, two of its key cash-generators.

Gates said he hoped Office 2007 would be ready in December.

Last month, the company said it would release Office to big business customers by the end of the year, instead of in October as planned. Consumers and other business users are now scheduled to get the product in early 2007.

Vista has been delayed repeatedly. Most recently, the company said it would be released to consumers in January, and to big business users in November.

Ballmer tried to reassure customers that the wait will be worthwhile.

He said it was "fair" to say Vista has been a long time coming. But he also called it "absolutely a blockbuster release."

Ted Schadler, an analyst from Forrester Research, said Ballmer was "selling hard" in pledging shorter wait times for future versions of Windows.

"Microsoft's business is built on developers, who build products and applications that run on Microsoft Windows," Schadler said. "He needs to reassure these people that he's not going to let them down again, and that it's worth it to switch to Vista."

Schadler said Microsoft could make good on Ballmer's pledge to shorten new Windows version wait times by making more incremental improvements than the company has promised in Vista.

"This time they really shot for the moon," Schadler said.

To coincide with its Boston conference, Microsoft on Tuesday also outlined the latest steps in its plans for competing with companies that offer software as a service over the Internet. That business model is increasingly threatening Microsoft's traditional method of selling software licenses that are installed on computers and servers.

Microsoft said it would launch an online version of its technology for helping companies keep in touch with clients. Microsoft Dynamics CRM Live will be available as an Internet service, hosted on Microsoft's own servers. It's scheduled to launch by mid-2007.

The customer relationship management product had previously been available for customers to load directly onto their own machines.

The online offering aims to help Microsoft compete with companies such as Inc. that already offer their products via the Web.

Web-based business software has been popular with customers because it can be easier to manage the products, and for users to access them on the go.


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