commentary Are product delays a fact of life or are they being used as a marketing tool?

This week Sun announced two of the major features the company has been keen to promulgate in the new Solaris operating system will be delayed until 2006.

The ZFS (Zettabyte File System), which is designed to improve the reliability, performance and capacity of data storage, and the Linux Application Environment, code-named “Janus,” which lets Solaris run unmodified Linux software looks quite promising.

However Sun’s vice president of operating platforms, Glenn Weinberg told CNET the “features are not scheduled for specific updates at this time. Our intent is that they will be released in calendar year 2006.”

Sun’s marketing manager for Solaris, Chris Racliffe however said that ZFS is in beta, and they are about to release a technology preview of Janus with the -goal of getting customer feedback on the best approach to this complex problem.”

Sun are not the only ones prematurely drumming PR before products have completed development — Microsoft have been talking about the next release of Visual Studio and SQL Server since October 2003 and developers are still yet to see a new release, only incremental betas and previews.

So are these public betas and promises of new features distracting developers and preventing organisations from spending money developing solutions and applications today?

Take for example the next version of the .NET framework. The .NET framework 2.0 has a host of new features but how long will it be before customers and end-users have the runtime in their organisation? How early is too early to start promoting a new tool or platform, and what promises are the large vendors taking to ensure they ship products on time? Is it good enough to tell a community of developers who are skilling up on the latest previews that they will ship -when it is ready?”.

In an interview in Builder Magazine, Borland’s chief scientist in charge of the direction of Delphi, Danny Thorpe, said that public betas did nothing but create unnecessary hype.

-What public betas do is they feed the hype engine. They grab the mindshare prematurely which is very effective when put against a product that is secretive and comes out as a surprise. In terms of getting feedback and useful features, private testing provides us with a lot of that material already. The main advantage of a public beta is hype, that’s it.”

Instead of fuelling the hype engine, Borland have decided to not ship the latest version of the .NET framework in their tools for this year because they simply couldn’t wait for Microsoft to give them a firm date on the release. No doubt this is a sensible approach if one wants to build solid developer products and software you can use in the marketplace today.