Lisa Su, CEO of chip manufacturer AMD, stirred the Windows world last Friday when she responded to a question on the AMD earnings call by saying, almost parenthetically: "What we also are factoring in is, you know, with the Windows 10 launch at the end of July, we are watching sort of the impact of that on the back-to-school season."
There's been a raft of analyses, tea leaf readings, and pundit navel-gazing since, based on that simple comment.
What she said struck a chord with those of us who are trying to figure out when Windows will ship. Famously, Windows honcho Terry Myerson has proclaimed that "Windows 10 [is] launching this summer in 190 countries and 111 languages." But few expected Windows 10 to launch as early as July.
Paul Thurrott, on his site Thurrott.com, has a great analysis of the peculiar use of the term "launch" and how it differs from the more traditional term, "Release to Manufacturing."
RTM isn't launch -- it precedes the launch by some number of weeks or even months -- but in Microsoft's world, RTM isn't really even the final milestone in a product's development lifecycle. Indeed, with OS products in particular, RTM is just a step down a path.
While we in the Windows Monday-morning-quarterback society were concentrating on an RTM date, somebody moved the cheese. What we used to call RTM just doesn't apply any more. The terminology doesn't describe reality in a faster-paced development cycle.
There was a similar situation, on a smaller scale, as we raced toward the finish line with Windows 7. Microsoft announced, unexpectedly, that it was pulling four major Vista applications and rolling them into Windows Live Essentials. Bundling Mail, Messenger, Photo Gallery, and Movie Maker into the separate Windows Live Essentials pack took a great deal of pressure off the deadline for finishing Windows 7 in time for the holiday season.
This time around the deadline's earlier in the year (the better to catch the back-to-school buying season) with a Metro twist: A large part of what we know as Windows 10 resembles bolt-on appendages -- much more so now than in the past.
For the past few months, we've been seeing beta builds that arrive with very few changes from their progenitors. It's distressing, but in many cases the changes we're searching for aren't, in fact, changes in Windows 10. They're changes to the appendages.
I'm going to stick my neck out and suggest that Microsoft can and will "launch" Windows 10 near the end of July. I'll go even further and agree with Tom Warren, who has speculated that "Microsoft is entering code completion stage soon."
Staring into a well-worn, dented, and horribly cloudy crystal ball brings up another neck-stretcher: I think it's likely we'll see something that resembles a release candidate -- or at least a quantum-step-up beta -- at the Build conference next week.
I'm not talking about appendages here, I'm talking about Windows 10 for the desktop.
Part of the reason I figure Microsoft will be ready is the lack of progress on some fronts in the publicly available beta builds. There's no question in my mind that Microsoft has been stockpiling features and will keep them under wraps until Build. That isn't preposterous, it's a combination of thorough internal testing and manifest showmanship. If you were in Myerson's shoes, you'd do the same thing.
I expect that the "Build build" will have reasonably final versions of the new Start menu, multiple "virtual" desktops, a re-thinking of Tablet Mode, a few networking bells and whistles, a fully functional Notification Center, and some eye candy for the people who can't decide if they prefer their Recycle Bin in 2D or 3D.
I don't expect it to have more than skeletal versions of Mail, Calendar, People, Photos, Music, Videos, Xbox, the new Store, or any of the old Bing apps. Those are all appendages -- part of the TBD/To Be Done crew -- and many of them are "good enough for starters" already.
As for the rest of it…Spartan and Cortana are new enough that just about anything will pass muster -- and we've all been primed to expect rapid updates to both. The new Universal Settings app will never absorb all of the old Control Panel, so its status doesn't matter much. OneDrive isn't going to change. Skype's set in concrete. Windows Hello biometric authentication is so far out nobody will miss it. The appendages are coming together well enough.
Can Microsoft deliver that in time for a late July launch? Yeah, I think so. The appendages will iron themselves out over time.
Microsoft has a big advantage with Windows Insiders, and I'd bet that Windows 10 will roll out to Insiders first. I think it's fair to say that the first adopters are much more interested in the big features, and less interested in the dev time-consuming appendages. Microsoft may get dinged in some reviews, but first adopters won't be overly concerned about gaps in the Outlook Mail client, lousy Contact merges, or shortcomings in the News app.
By the time Microsoft rolls Windows 10 out to the unwashed masses in August, many of the apps will have had time to catch up.
There's a big problem with shipping that way. It requires a leap of faith for folks who will actually rely on the appendage apps. Microsoft has a horrible record shipping decent apps after the fact. You only have to think back to the half-baked and rarely updated Metro apps that shipped with Windows 8 to know that Microsoft's promises to improve apps may exceed its commitment to deliver them.
I just hope we'll get some of the wide-open problems nailed down at the Build conference: SKUs and prices and upgrade mechanisms, of course, but also the details about Windows Update, privacy settings, and advertising inside Windows. It'd be nice to get a real name for Spartan and People, too.
It looks to me like a release candidate (or at least a much-improved beta) could ship at Build, with a "launch" to Insiders in late July; new Windows 10 PCs and a massive rollout -- previously known as General Availability -- in August could well be in the cards.
If you think of Windows 10 as an immutable force, rather than an immovable target, that schedule does make sense.