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Microsoft still is expected to deliver the next Windows Vista milestone, the February Community Technology Preview release, next week — most likely on Feb. 21, according to testers briefed last month by Microsoft.

While beta testers contacted this week said they had received no updated information as to when to expect the so-called February Community Technology Preview, most said they were still expecting it to arrive on February 21, as Microsoft privately told testers a month ago.

Around the same time that it releases the updated test build of its next version of Windows, Microsoft also is expected to launch a beta of deployment tools designed to help corporations implement Vista.

Microsoft invited hundreds of TAPs (Technology Adoption Partners) — its pool of elite beta testers—to the Redmond, Wash., campus on Jan. 24 and 25. There, according to participants who asked not to be named, Microsoft officials said the next Vista CTP was slated for Feb. 21. TAP testers said the follow-on release, the Customer Preview Program CTP, is slated for April.

Microsoft officials have said the next Vista interim test build is due in the first quarter of 2006 but have declined to provide further specifics. While it’s not clear which internal Vista build will be christened the February CTP nor which features will be added or dropped from that build, TAP testers said they expect Microsoft to use the next milestone as a starting point for its Vista deployment tool testing.

With Windows XP, Microsoft laid the current Windows deployment tool groundwork by introducing an elaborate set of tools, methodologies and guidance, known as Solution Accelerator for BDD (Business Desktop Deployment).

For corporations considering rolling out tens, hundreds or thousands of seats of new software, deployment tools are crucial. That’s why the Vista team is spending considerable cycles planning what kinds of Windows Vista deployment tools it wants to deliver, how it plans to roll them out and when to get potential customers onboard.

Read the full story on Microsoft Watch: Microsoft Preps For Its Next Windows Vista Milestone