Vista global launch faces antitrust probe delay

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Vista global launch faces antitrust probe delay

Gartner warns that OS unlikely to ship before Q2 2007.

The European Commission's investigation of alleged antitrust issues associated with Windows Vista could force Microsoft to delay global shipping of the next-generation operating system, Gartner has warned.

Microsoft disclosed on 8 September that it may delay the availability of Windows Vista in European Union countries owing to concerns about the product's ability to comply with EC antitrust regulations.

"The announcement shows how non-technical issues could delay a product launch," reported a Gartner briefing from analysts Michael Silver, Stephen Kleynhans and David Mitchell Smith.

"It comes just a week after Microsoft made Windows Vista Release Candidate 1 available to select users.

"Normally, RC1, which seems to be a strong advance over prior betas, would bode well for release to manufacture of Windows Vista before the end of 2006. But Microsoft wants to avoid further litigation."

Gartner noted that Symantec filed a lawsuit in May 2006 over the storage management function included in Windows from Veritas.

In addition, Adobe Systems has filed a complaint with the EC against Microsoft about the inclusion of XML Paper Specification support in Windows and Office, and Portable Document Format support in Office.

"Gartner believes that, while Microsoft would go far to settle corporate lawsuits that would delay Windows Vista, it is less likely to be able to resolve legal action by the EC as easily," the analyst firm stated.

"The EC says that it has provided clear guidance, but Microsoft maintains that it wants more specific direction to avoid having to withdraw or reissue products or pay fines because of product functions.

"In the past, the EC ordered Microsoft to pay nearly US$1 billion in fines and required it to release a version of Windows XP for European markets without its media player.

"Since this Windows XP 'N' version costs the same as the full product, sales have been weak."

The Gartner report speculated that, by publicising issues with the EC and specifying security features as the root of the conflict, Microsoft may be preparing to blame the EC for a delay in shipping Vista.

"It may decide to ship Vista to volume-licensing customers so that companies could start testing and planning processes, and delay only consumer and original equipment manufacturer availability, although volume-licensed copies could be affected by any EC requirements," said the report.

"However, Gartner believes that Microsoft would not ship a single product worldwide if it meant disabling security features to satisfy the EC."

The report added that other factors, when coupled with the final EU requirements, could persuade Microsoft to delay broad availability of Windows Vista in all markets, which aligns with a previous Gartner forecast that Vista will ship in the second quarter of 2007.

"Microsoft could decide that a single code base for everyone would better serve the market and allow business customers to deploy a single image usable in most of the world," said the analyst.

"Additionally, Microsoft may want to appease retailers and OEMs that would rather promote Windows Vista in March or April 2007 anyway to avoid conflict with the 2006 holiday season.

"These factors create an air of reasonable doubt that may serve to prepare the market for the potential eventuality of a slip."

Gartner advises firms that would need 12 to 18 months to plan and test their Windows Vista deployments not to expect any potential delays to hamper their plans.

However, organisations planning deployment of Windows Vista within the first few months could be affected if Microsoft has to delay availability to volume-licensing customers.

These organisations are advised by Gartner to work with their independent software vendors to ensure that support for their current Windows platform will continue until they have migrated to the new product.
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