Microsoft Early on Vista Beta?

Microsoft could release the beta 1 version of Windows Vista as early as Wednesday to some testers, according to the Internet rumor mill.

Analysts close to Microsoft had no comment when asked whether the beta would be released July 27.

When Redmond announced last week that the early tester of its next-generation Windows product would be available on August 3, people took the company at its word.

But fan site WinBeta reported on Tuesday that invited beta testers would receive bits tomorrow. ActiveWin, another enthusiast site, upped the buzz by posting copies of the privacy statement for the Vista beta. It’s dated July 27.

The Windows Vista section of the company’s Web site now says, “Beta 1, targeted at developers and IT professionals, will be available by August 3rd 2005″ — not on August 3.

Last week, Microsoft said it also would deliver early beta versions of Longhorn Server and IE 7 on August 3, as well. But ActiveWin also posted a copy of the Microsoft privacy policy for Internet Explorer 7.0, also with Wednesday’s date.

According to WinBeta, invited testers will receive the build tomorrow, while MSDN subscribers will be able to access it on August 3.

“Assuming it happens, it will be a nice change for them, releasing earlier rather than later,” said Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox. He said a beta release one day before Microsoft’s financial analysts meeting, being held on the Microsoft campus on July 28, would be a nice move.

“It would give Microsoft an opportunity to have something really good to show the guys,” Wilcox said. “They could tell [the analysts], ‘We have started the process. The new Windows is coming.'”

Microsoft first began talking about Longhorn at its 2003 Professional Developers Conference. Since then, it’s been the subject of relentless speculation and second-guessing about when it would ship the product.

Microsoft needs to deliver a new client in order to climb out of its “product gap” — it hasn’t had a major product release since Windows XP. As it committed to ship the new OS in 2006, the development teams had begun to scale back the product in order to get it out the door.

Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney said Microsoft’s approach of dribbling out code was working well for it. “I think they’re doing a good thing to get lots of feedback and input on the platform,” he said.

It’s a process the company began in earnest with the lead-in to Windows 2000, according to Dulaney. “They said, ‘Let’s take a year, give people a lot of code. If we call it a beta, they can’t complain and — they’ll help us.”

This strategy, along with better error-reporting tools, should pay off with Windows Vista, according to Dulaney. He said, “I expect probably this release will be more bug-free than any one before it.”

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