The problem, as Silver sees it, is that Microsoft must withhold enough information so as not to give customers considering Vista second thoughts, but release enough to make it possible for those same customers to plan for eventual deployment. But that may be impossible. "They're in a bad place whether they talk about Windows 7 or not," said Silver.
Microsoft will talk more openly about Windows 7 at some point. "As the product becomes more complete, we will have the opportunity to share our plans more broadly," Flores said. "We know that this is a change in our approach, but we are confident that it will help us not only to build even better products, but also to be more predictable in the delivery of our products."
That, , said Cherry, is what's critical for Microsoft to get right. "Part of the problem is that people haven't believed what Microsoft's scheduled," he said, referring to the skepticism users had to adopt when deadlines repeatedly slipped during Vista's development. "Whether [development] is happening publicly or privately, it doesn't matter if you don't get the schedule right.
Would the new tactic of keeping the lid on work? Cherry wasn't sure. "If they triaged the people who need to know in the right order, and they're notifying them with accurate information they can rely on, it's workable.
"The question, though, is does an approach that works with Microsoft Office, which has a much smaller developer base, work with something as large as a general-purpose OS?" Cherry asked.
Steven Sinofsky, the Microsoft senior vice president who heads Windows development, had headed Office development previously, and was well-known for running a team that didn't disclose many details about its current work. "I don't know the answer, but we'll find out with Windows 7, won't we?" Cherry said.