Microsoft expects to release to manufacturing the next version of its Windows desktop OS on July 25, 2006, to ensure PC vendors will have it on machines in time for the 2006 holiday season in the US, according to sources familiar with the company's plans.

Microsoft is expected to give Windows Vista to PC vendors earlier than customers expected to "get a jump on the Christmas season", Ethan Allen, a Microsoft beta tester and administrator of The Hotfix website, said in an email on Monday. The information also is posted on The Hotfix site, and corroborated by another beta tester.

Eyeing the Holidays

Microsoft has not provided a timeframe for when Windows Vista would be in the hands of its hardware vendor partners (called original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs), Michael Burk, product manager for Windows Vista at Microsoft, said in an email on Monday.

Company executives have said the OS would be generally available on PCs in time for the 2006 holiday season, which is late November to late December in the US. PC manufacturers would need access to Windows Vista earlier than that in order to ship it on hardware by that time.

Microsoft also plans to give developers a second beta of Windows Vista on December 16, 2005, Allen said. The company has said it would release Beta 2 of the OS before the end of the year but did not specify a date for that release.

Burk said via email on Monday that Microsoft is still determining when it will release the second beta of the OS, based on feedback from testers of Beta 1 and a Community Technology Preview of Windows Vista released earlier in October. The first beta of Vista was made available in July.

Visual studio due

In the meantime, Microsoft is readying the official launch of Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005 at an event in San Francisco on 7 November.

The company is expected to get Visual Studio 2005 in developers' hands sometime this week on MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) ahead of the official release, according to Allen and information on a discussion forum on Microsoft's Channel 9 website. Channel 9 is a site that provides information and forums dedicated to fostering discussion between Microsoft and its developers and customers.

Representatives from the Visual Studio team at Microsoft's public relations firm Waggener Edstrom did not return calls or email on Monday morning.