In a normal company, milestones have dates assigned to them and ship dates are public knowledge, at least internally.
Not so at Apple. We can guess the ship date based on when our planned completion date is. But this is software. It’s perennially late, so you just never know.
One high profile case of this was with the first release of Mac OS X.
Nearly the entire Mac OS X engineering team was in the audience on January 9th, 2001 at MacWorld Expo. This was the public unveiling of Mac OS X and the Aqua user interface.
Us engineers were nervous for many reasons. First, what would the reaction be to the new Aqua user interface. A lot rode of the acceptance and love of it.
Second, here Steve was demoing something that we know was far from being shipping quality. I worked on Mail at the time. Steve deviated from the script and Mail crashed, only to return by switching to a backup machine. Talk about nerves.
Then the surprise happened. Steve announced Mac OS X was shipping on March 24th. Of the same year! We were doing the mental date math in our heads and were horrified.
Several of us mimed getting up to get back to our desks to get back to work.
But Steve knew what he was doing. It had dragged on long enough. We had to ship it. Apple was in serious trouble and the new OS was the one thing that could save it. Well, and the iPod, which was merely an idea at the time. And without a viable Mac, there would be no iPod.
So that’s the story about how the entire Mac OS X engineering team found out when their product was going to ship.
At the same time everyone else in the world did.