Last week, the tech blogosphere was abuzz over the news that Bill Gates had inadvertently slipped up and disclosed that Windows 7 would arrive in 2009 instead of in 2010 as originally forecast. The buzz was all based on a single offhand remark that Gates made during a Q&A session in Miami: "Sometime in the next year or so we will have a new version [of Windows]."
Well, there you go. Windows 7 in 2009. Gates said so! Then, as quickly as it began, the story apparently began unraveling and a wave of follow-ups began to appear, reflecting the new conventional wisdom that Bill was getting confused about beta versions or something and that Windows 7 is really going to be out in 2010.
So, what caused this sudden, whiplash-inducing turnaround? A few journalists contacted Microsoft for an official comment on the story, and here’s what they got (as reported by Todd Bishop of The Seattle P-I):
We are currently in the planning stages for Windows 7 and development is scoped to three years from Windows Vista Consumer GA. As is standard with the release of a new product, we will be releasing early builds of Windows 7 prior to its General Availability as a means to gain tester feedback. We’re not sharing additional information at this time.
That’s it. Even in Microsoft’s post-Vista climate of “translucency, as opposed to transparency,” this is an almost impenetrably dense statement. Bishop, who is an honest-to-goodness journalist, reported the statement without comment or interpretation. But bloggers with itchier trigger fingers spent 10 seconds or so looking at the statement and then leaped to conclusions. Here’s a sampling of headlines and relevant quotes from yesterday:
"Microsoft wants to chill everyone out with the somber news that its got no plans to introduce Windows 7 any earlier than January 2010 (three years from the launch of Vista)…"
Techspot.com: Windows 7 still slated for 2010
"Though many welcomed the news of an OS refresh ahead of schedule (while bashing Vista at the same time), it appears that Windows 7 won’t be ready in its final version any earlier than 2010 – three years from Windows Vista’s rocky introduction to market."
InformationWeek: Windows 7 in 2010, Microsoft says
"Windows Vista was released to consumers in late January 2007. That means Windows 7 would not be released until January 2010, according to Microsoft’s statement."
Did Microsoft really say it has no plans to introduce Windows 7 any earlier than January 2010? I keep looking at that statement and trying to figure out what it really means. A lot of very highly paid corporate communications professionals no doubt worked on that statement for days, and it was, without question, approved by people very near the top of Microsoft’s org chart. Here, read it again:
“…development is scoped to three years from Windows Vista Consumer GA…”
Odd language, isn’t it? “Development is scoped to three years”? What the hell does that mean? One logical interpretation is that the scope of Windows 7 (the full feature set to be included) is based on what can be done within that three-year period. If you’re a manager on the Windows team with a cool feature, you have to be able to guarantee that your code will be fully written, tested, and debugged by the end of next year. If you can’t, your cool feature gets postponed to the release after Windows 7.
And where does Microsoft’s carefully parsed statement say anything about release dates? Yes, “Windows Vista Consumer GA [General Availability],” was on January 30, 2007, and if you add three years to that you get January 30, 2010. That’s the impression that statement was no doubt intended to give, but that’s not what it says.
In fact, I think that date makes no sense at all, as I explain in my latest post over at ZDNet. I’m betting that Windows 7 will be ready in the second half of 2009. I’m even going on the record with my very own wild-assed guess. Think you’re smarter than me when it comes to forecasting what Microsoft will do? Cast your vote in the Windows 7 release date prediction pool.