So Microsoft announced yesterday that Windows Vista will be delayed in its public release for consumers, not coming out until early 2007 instead of the expected later in 2006.

Not surprisingly, this news has already attracted wide commentary in mainstream media and the blogosphere alike, nearly all of it highly critical.

What I find quite interesting is the focus of Microsoft’s press release, pitching this news as a positive announcement as part of the company’s overall business strategy for the new operating system. This is how the announcement starts:

REDMOND, Wash. – March 21, 2006 – Microsoft Corp. today confirmed that Windows Vistaâ„¢, the next generation of the Windows® client operating system, is on target to go into broad consumer beta to approximately 2 million users in the second quarter of 2006. Microsoft is on track to complete the product this year, with business availability in November 2006 and broad consumer availability in January 2007.

You gotta hand it to Microsoft’s PR team. A testament to the power of ambiguous press release writing! Talk about when the next beta is due and camouflage the delay with phrases like “on track” so you see positive words saying that the release will happen later than most public expectations. Nice try. Of course, that spin was roundly ignored by the media and bloggers who zero in on what they see as the real story – Vista is delayed – with related opinions on the abilities of Microsoft’s senior executives and overall leadership.

Personally, I don’t think a few months’ delay is that big a deal in the overall scheme of things. Given Microsoft’s history with delays in product releases, why should anyone really be surprised?

Yet there is a real issue here, one that ought to be of genuine concern to Microsoft’s leaders – credibility, reputation and the effect of an event like this on everyone associated with the company, not least of which being the employees.

While we can expect to see quite a bit of public communication in the coming days and weeks (traditional PR and via the new influencers like Robert Scoble) as Microsoft talks up more benefits, I’m more interested in what’s happening within their organization.

Take a look at Mini-Microsoft, a blog written by an anonymous Microsoft employee who is consistently and constantly critical of his employer. In particular, read “Fire the leadership now!”, Mini’s post yesterday with his opinions about the Vista announcement.

More importantly, cast your eye through the nearly 70 comments (so far) to that post. While all but a handful are anonymous – are those commenters employees? customers? partners? trolls? all of these? – those comments surely are a temperature test of grassroots opinion about this company.