Allchin told attendees at the company's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference 2002 in Seattle that he expects Windows .net server to be released "later this calendar year, from at least a manufacturing perspective" - in line with the company's most recent predictions issued early last month.
However, Allchin's statement that the server software product probably will be in customer's hands sometime next year could represent a "big slip", according to Tom Bittman, an analyst at Gartner Group. Bittman said he expects Windows .net server to be released to manufacturers in September or October, meaning the shipped product could be in customers' hands by the end of the year.
Further slippage certainly would not be unprecedented for the new Windows server operating system, which had been scheduled to ship at the same time as the Windows XP desktop operating system. Windows XP shipped last October, but the server operating system's release date slid to the first half of this year and then to the second half of this year.
The company's Trustworthy Computing security initiative - which, in part, calls for an extensive security review of all products - has been cited as one reason for the delay. But Bittman said Microsoft also has encountered some challenges building its .net development framework into products.
"It's taking longer than expected," Bittman said, adding that the problems will have consequences for the succeeding Windows release, which is codenamed Longhorn.
Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Information Group, said he altered the Longhorn ship date on his product road maps earlier this year, as soon as he learned that it had been shifted from a minor to a major release.
He said Microsoft's security and .net initiatives, as well as the government's antitrust case, may also be factors in product changes and delays.
Enderle expects the Longhorn desktop operating system to emerge in the second half of 2004, with the server version to follow in mid-2005.
"Some [corporate users] were thinking they were going to wait for Longhorn because it was a minor release and 2003 seemed relatively close," Enderle said. "Now it's slipped to 2004, and that's a long time to wait [for an upgrade]."
Corporate users who may have been waiting for Windows .net server to take advantage of its Active Directory improvements may not want to wait. Even if the product ships in early 2003, they would be well advised to wait four or five months for the new features to stabilise, Gartner's Bittman said.
"What we'll generally tell clients is, if they're ready to deploy in the next three to four months, they should deploy with Windows 2000 rather than wait and bring in .net server when it's ready," he added.
Gartner gives the Longhorn server operating system a 40% chance of shipping in 2004 and a 60% chance of shipping in 2005, according to Bittman.