Are Accurate Delivery Dates Too Much to Ask for?

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Print this article Print


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Opinion: Have we gotten so used to release to manufacturing dates being fiction that we're buying lies instead of products?

I'm not cynical enough. No, really.

I got my nose rubbed into that recently. A good friend of mine wanted to know where—not when—he could buy Vista. I, old and wise in the way of technology vendors, shrugged my shoulders and said, "You can't," and then gave the Reader Digest's version of why Vista hasn't shipped. I finished with, "And, that's just the way it is."

OK, it wasn't my most shining moment. But then it hit me. I have gotten so used to computer vendors' introduction and release to manufacturing dates being fiction that I no longer see the problem.

Heck, I wasn't even thinking at all. Rocks fall when you drop them; products ship anywhere from two to eight weeks after they're "available" and one to two years, in the case of Microsoft, after their first delivery date has been promised.

This isn't right. Our expectations about technology have fallen so low that we're now amazed when something arrives approximately on time and actually does its job right the first time.

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For example, shipping software has become an oxymoron. Offices now not only run but depend upon "beta" software like Google Desktop and Google Calendar.

At least, Google's co-founder Larry Page has an explanation for this. Last year at a Wall Street analyst meeting, Page said that it is Google's policy to keep products and services in beta as long as its engineers expect to continue to make major changes to them.

Funny, I always thought beta meant a product was feature-complete and it was only a matter of fixing all the bugs.

It's not just corporate software and hardware vendors that play this game. The community Linuxes have also set, and blown, deadlines, as Debian did with its often delayed 2005 Sarge release.

Let's get real, though. Even when a program is released, would any of us deploy a ".zero" release of anything on a business critical system? Not if we wanted to keep our jobs, we wouldn't.

Isn't it time for a change? Shouldn't we start telling everyone that when companies make a kiss and a promise about how good 50GB Blu-ray Discs are that there's almost no devices on the market that will play them? People can't watch anything on a kiss and a promise.

One of the oldest jokes in the computer business is the difference between a used car salesman and a PC salesman is that the used car salesman knows when he's lying.

I'm not sure that's funny anymore. You see, technology vendors do know that they're lying with their fantasy delivery dates, eternal betas and their broken .0 releases.

What do you think folks? Isn't it time we start demanding the vendors take shipping dates from the fantasy to the nonfiction section of the marketplace?

Ziff Davis Internet's Linux and Open-Source Linux Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been working and writing about technology and business since the late '80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.

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Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is editor of eWEEK.com's Linux & Open Source Center and Ziff Davis Channel Zone. Prior to becoming a technology journalist, Vaughan-Nichols worked at NASA and the Department of Defense on numerous major technological projects. Since then, he's focused on covering the technology and business issues that make a real difference to the people in the industry.

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