Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates hinted at a 2006 release date for the next version of Windows, codenamed Longhorn.
Speaking at Gartner's Symposium/ITexpo event in San Diego, Gates said that industry speculation that the operating system will come out in 2006 is "probably valid speculation".
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Gates also said that Microsoft will release an alpha version of Longhorn later this year. He did not mention the first beta version that Microsoft had said it would deliver in 2004. A beta is further along in the development cycle of software than an alpha.
Microsoft at its Windows Engineering Hardware Conference (WinHEC) last May said it would deliver Longhorn in 2005, but later backed away from that commitment.
Company executives have since declined to specify a release year for Longhorn, which Gates called a "big breakthrough release" for Microsoft.
"Longhorn is not a date-driven release," Gates said, adding that there are a lot of technological "must haves" for Longhorn and those could hold back a release if they are not completed on time.
Microsoft released a special preview version of the software at its Professional Developers Conference last October.
Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service