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IT product release dates annoy, bore users

Administrators who rush out to buy software on product release dates can count themselves in the minority, according to a new survey. But while many say such release dates are artificial milestones, some find them helpful as IT planning guides.

Administrators who rush out to buy software on product release dates can count themselves in the minority, according to a new survey. But while many say such release dates are artificial milestones, some find them helpful as IT planning guides.

In a recent poll, only 22% of respondents said they thought software release dates were very important, while more than 75% thought they were not at all important or just somewhat important.

When asked to discuss Microsoft product release dates in detail, administrators responded en masse and often negatively. In more than 70 e-mail messages, Windows professionals voiced concerns about bugs in new software, the rate at which upgrades become available and whether Microsoft considers its customers' best interests when planning its latest releases.

The most prevalent sentiment among Windows professionals was that product release dates are good markers for when not to purchase software. Claiming that new Microsoft offerings are often rife with bugs, many administrators said they purchase software when it becomes more stable, well after the release dates.

"I will be more interested in the two weeks following the first service pack," said Howard Plumley Jr. "Then the product can be considered for production use."

Other respondents agreed, some arguing that Microsoft should focus less on determining exact release dates and more on doing extensive testing on new software.

"I'm more concerned [that] the stuff that is out works right, so if [Microsoft would] hang on to it in development a bit longer to make it more secure and bug-free, that's fine with me," said Greg Page.

An endless race to keep pace

Some administrators cringe at the speed with which Microsoft ships upgrades and new products. Many said they could not keep up with Microsoft's software release dates or its software release pace.

"I would rather see longer intervals between releases for the products that I already have in place," said Pat Oblander. "Maybe I am just getting a little burnt out on the rip-out-and-replace treadmill, or maybe it is because there are quite a few other priorities besides Microsoft software upgrades needing attention in our shop."

While many administrators took issue with software release dates in general, others pointed the finger specifically at Microsoft's release date practices. Some of those administrators speculated that Microsoft release dates exist in order to market products rather than to inform customers.

"[Microsoft has] created the illusion that the product release is imminent, to put off any purchases that could be made from competitors, even though they could be a year or two out," said Marshall Postnikoff. "Their marketing machine seems to have mastered this approach."

Given administrators' gripes against product release dates, it's not surprising that some claimed to prefer software release delays to on-time deliveries. Longhorn, the code name for Microsoft's next version of its Windows operating system, was once slated for a late-2004 release. The software giant pushed it back to 2005, and analysts recently predicted it wouldn't be ready until 2006. Those delays were good news for Paul Edwards, a senior Windows server administrator.

"Personally, I'd be happy if Microsoft delayed Longhorn even more, spacing their major releases four to five years rather than two to three," he said. "It sounds like there will be some significant changes in Longhorn, and a release date in the 2005 to 2006 range would have been about right."

Useful as an IT planning guide

Not all administrators criticized Microsoft's product release date practices. Some Windows professionals said accurate product release dates are important for long-term enterprise IT planning.

"If a company starts putting project dates together and planning for an OS release that is too far off of target, they might purchase way too much hardware for the current OS or not enough for the new OS," said Jeff Kohut.

Another IT professional echoed Kohut's belief that software release dates are useful for planners, and that Microsoft's dates, while sometimes inaccurate, are important.

"I am still interested in hearing about release dates, as well as if they have slipped and will be released later," said Monty Robinson, a software engineer. "This is valuable information for me so I can know when to expect the new releases and to plan accordingly."


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