Speaking at Gartner's Symposium/ITexpo event in San Diego on Monday, Gates didn't definitively nail 2006 as the year when Longhorn will ship in final form, but said analysts' conjectures that the new operating system will debut in two years are "probably valid speculation."
But Gates warned that Longhorn's dates aren't set in stone. "Longhorn is not a date-driven release," Gates said. "Until you're getting close to completion, your [release] data is somewhat variable."
What Gates did commit to was a release of a Longhorn alpha this year. What he didn't say, however, was anything about a beta of Longhorn, which Microsoft had earlier scheduled for this year.
The delay isn't unexpected, said Joe Wilcox, an analyst with Jupiter Research's Microsoft Monitor, even though Microsoft as recently as last May said it planned to release Longhorn in 2005. Since then, Microsoft executives have refused to commit to a definite release of the successor to Windows XP, prompting analysts like Wilcox to theorize that its actually release date is slipped beyond even 2006.