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Based on Vista track record, can Windows 7 be stable and on schedule?

Is that spin I smell? Despite earlier rumors to the contrary, Microsoft seems now to be standing firm behind a 2010 release date for the next-generation version of Windows, currently known as Windows 7. Nobody is being too specific just yet, but a letter sent by Microsoft senior vice president Bill Veghte reiterated that the new OS would ship "approximately three years after the January 2007 general availability launch date of Windows Vista."

The really amazing part, however, is Veghte's explanation for the date. "You have told us you want a more regular, predictable Windows release schedule," he writes. Ask and ye shall receive -- but I wonder, exactly how does Microsoft plan to pull that one off?

Has anyone forgotten how we arrived at the January 2007 release date for Vista to begin with? In early 2006, we were told that it would be out "by year's end." Then came the rumors that Microsoft might have to scale back the release to meet its deadline. Features were being dropped. After a long period of speculation, Microsoft admitted that it would be unable to ship even a less-ambitious product on schedule. Vista was pushed back to 2007, and some analysts wondered whether the software giant would even be able to salvage it by then.

Finally, at long last customers had Vista in their hot little hands, and we know what happened next. Early adopters were practically unanimous: "Wait for SP1."

So I ask you again, just how does Microsoft intend to deliver the next version of Windows, stable and on schedule, based on its Vista track record? And it's not just Vista; Office 2007 suffered similar delays. There are signs that Microsoft's development organization may be in need of a serious overhaul if the Redmond-based giant wants to salvage its reputation and avoid future debacles.

But Veghte offers some hints as to Microsoft's strategy this time around. If you read his full letter, he explains that "[Microsoft's] approach with Windows 7 is to build off the same core architecture as Windows Vista so the investments you and our partners have made in Windows Vista will continue to pay off with Windows 7. Our goal is to ensure the migration process from Windows Vista to Windows 7 is straightforward."

In other words, don't expect any ambitious new features from the new Windows. Instead, expect more of the same. Windows 7 won't be the next big thing -- just Microsoft's next chance to get it right.