Microsoft co-president of the platform and services division, Jim Allchin, announced that "broad availability" of Windows Vista will be delayed until January 2007.

Microsoft will release Vista to business partners through its volume licensing program in November 2006, he said. This will let them begin deploying the OS throughout their business.

Firm date slows the industry

In an interview in January, Allchin said he would delay releasing Vista if the OS did not reach a standard of quality with which he was comfortable. In a conference call on Tuesday, he said that Microsoft wanted to give customers a firm date for when the company could deliver Vista broadly, and so decided to push back the release to January of next year.

Microsoft still plans to release to manufacturing all six of Vista's core editions in November, Allchin said. But PCs with the consumer versions pre-installed will not be for sale until January.

The consumer editions of Vista, which Allchin said have not changed, are Windows Vista Starter, Windows Vista Home Basic, Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate. The business editions are Windows Vista Business and Windows Vista Enterprise, and they will be available through volume licensing in November.

Quality issues

Allchin would not give specific reasons for Vista's delay, but said it is a quality issue and that it was something partners requested.

"We're just trying to be responsive to their concerns and also be forthright about where we are in terms of being a few weeks late for quality," Allchin said.

Microsoft said it is not concerned about rival Apple capitalising on Vista's delay because the company believes customers will still buy Vista simply because of the rich features it will provide.

But at least one analyst suggested Microsoft should be worried, since the delay will have a major affect on Microsoft's entire partner ecosystem.

"They will miss out on the lucrative holiday season and this move will definitely slow down growth in the PC industry," said Sam Bhavnani, a principal analyst with Current Analysis, via email. "The impact is far-reaching and will have a significant impact on computer manufacturers, resellers and ingredient players."

PC box shifters slammed on the street

Wall Street reacted negatively to the news, as both Microsoft and hardware partners Dell and HP shares slipped in after-hours trading on Tuesday. At press time, Microsoft shares were down $0.64 from $27.74 at market close to $27.10. Dell's stock slipped from $30.27 to $29.85, while HP's stock slipped $0.54 from $33.54 to $33.00.

Financial analysts noted that the news will force hardware partners that were expecting a holiday surge from Vista PC sales to revise their financial expectations.

Microsoft is on target to release another Community Technology Preview (CTP) of Vista by the end of June, a completion of the Beta 2 process of the OS, Allchin said. At this point, Vista is already feature-complete and any tweaks made to the OS before its final release will be for quality, he said.

"It's not new work that we're adding," Allchin said. "It's simply ... [work in] continuing to make this the most safe and secure system that's ever been."

Microsoft said that Vista's delay does not affect the release of Internet Explorer 7 for Windows XP in the second half of the year. IE 7 will ship as a feature of Vista, and Microsoft had said the version of IE 7 for XP was to be released at the same time as the OS.