More delays to the release schedule for Windows Vista revealed Friday suggest that problems with shipping the OS may be broader than Microsoft has admitted.

Beta testers familiar with Microsoft's plans to release test versions of the OS said that although Microsoft has said Vista development has been delayed a few weeks, the date the OS will be released to manufacturers has been pushed back two months.

Missing Christmas

Instead of reaching manufacturers on August 25, as originally scheduled, Vista will now be released to them on October 25, sources said. The next community technology preview (CTP) release of Vista, which is the completion of the Beta 2 cycle, also has been moved to May 24 from its original release date of April 12. Similarly, the first release candidate of Vista, originally set for mid-July, is now slated for August 25.

Microsoft said it is on track to release the next CTP of Vista in the second quarter, but has not given a more specific date than that.

In a hastily scheduled conference call Tuesday, Jim Allchin, co-president of Microsoft's Platforms & Services division announced that the consumer versions of Vista would not ship on PCs until January 2007, though business customers will have access to Vista before the end of the year through the volume licensing channel. This means Microsoft and its hardware partners will miss selling Vista PCs during the busy holiday shopping season in the US between late November and late December.

Looking forward, Vista could slip more

Allchin characterised the delay in development as "a few weeks" on Tuesday's call. But a two-month change in the RTM of the product clearly suggests development is off track by more than that. Moreover, analysts said missing its target date for the holiday season gives Microsoft breathing room to push back Vista's release even further into 2007.

PC sales are typically slower in the first and second quarters of the year, said Joe Wilcox, an analyst with Jupiter Research. "Microsoft missed the holidays, so January might as well be July," he said.

Even a late October RTM is bumping up against a deadline for when OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) would need Vista in order to get the system on PCs in time for January, he added.