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Microsoft confused over Memphis

It's hard for the left arm to know what the right arm's doing at large companies. But when the subject is Memphis, the level of confusion is surprising.

When you're as big as Microsoft, it's hard for the left arm to know what the right arm's doing. But when the subject is as high-profile as the release date of the successor to Windows 95, the level of confusion emanating from the software giant is surprising.

Conflicting reports arose last week when the company's solution provider group published details on the shipping dates for Memphis, the code name for the next Windows, in this month's edition of its Solution News newsletter. The newsletter said Memphis would be in retailers' hands by November 1.

That seemed clear enough, until the Windows team denied that it gave the dates to the newsletter's publishers and called the information "inaccurate."

"Nobody talked to me or the engineers of Memphis," said Adam Taylor, Windows group product manager. "I am the source for this kind of information, and this didn't come from us."

Taylor reiterated that Microsoft hopes to ship Memphis by the end of this year but that it could slip into the first quarter of 1998.

Reports of a possible '98 ship date surfaced earlier this year when PC makers said they had been warned that they might not get Memphis in time for holiday sales. Microsoft officials say that the feedback of its beta testers takes priority over the seasonal concerns of retailers.

"We will only ship products after our testers tell us they're happy with it," Taylor said.

But given that Memphis will be a consumer-oriented system that takes advantage of new hardware such as TV tuner cards, digital video discs, and universal serial buses, Microsoft would be wise to placate their PC makers, according to one observer of the company.

"It's not five or six months from completion--they could easily ship it before Christmas in shrink-wrap," said John Swenson, associate editor of Windows Watcher magazine. "So much of [Memphis] is focused on supporting new hardware; the people who are really going to want it are PC manufacturers doing new features."

The retail channel will be even more important with Memphis given Microsoft's shift of focus to NT as its main corporate desktop operating system. With a new version of NT due next year, corporate buyers are less likely to upgrade their Windows 3.1 or 95 desktops to Memphis.

"Unless you offer a highly demonstrable aspect of business functionality, like savings from a writeoff or added productivity, companies will stay on their regular upgrade cycle," said Karl Wilhelm, vice president of system integrator SRA International. And, he said, those cycles will most likely lead them to NT, not Memphis.