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Windows 7 Build Already Leaked on Torrent Sites

That didn't take long. Just last week, Microsoft distributed a pre-beta release of Windows 7 to attendees at its annual Professional Developers Conference (PDC).

Now, nearly anyone can get a copy courtesy of multiple bit torrent sites that let users download the same code that PDC attendees received – granted it doesn't come on a free 160 GB external hard disk as it did for paying attendees.

For anyone who's been living on Mars for the past year, Windows 7 is Microsoft's belated 'fix' for all that turned out to be wrong with Windows Vista, including poor performance, annoying hassles like the nagging User Account Control feature, and lack of driver support.

Although Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has tried to keep up appearances that Vista is selling well – some 180 million copies have been claimed sold at last count -- CEO Steve Ballmer recently described Windows 7 as "Vista only better." In other words, Windows 7 is meant to replace the faltering Vista.

Officials will only state that Windows 7 will ship roughly three years after Vista's January 2007 consumer debut. However, sources told InternetNews.com in September that the company is shooting for a June 2009 release to manufacturing.

As in previous cases when Microsoft code has ended up on bit torrent sites, such as last spring's leak of pre-release versions of Vista Service Pack 1 and XP SP3, the company cautioned users against downloading from non-Microsoft sites.

"Microsoft has not released Windows 7 code to the public and we caution consumers and businesses that downloading software (including workarounds) from a non-genuine source can pose risks to their environment," a company spokesperson said in an e-mail to InternetNews.com.

However, Windows enthusiasts and more adventurous geeks frequently can't wait to try out the latest code and bit torrent sites are happy to appease them. That was the case in the past week as the code for Windows 7 pre-beta (both x86 and x64 editions) slipped out almost immediately after it was passed out to developers at the PDC on Tuesday.

Among the torrent sites claiming to offer various builds of Windows 7, including the build numbered 6801 given to developers last week are The Pirate Bay, and Mininova.

According to statistics posted on Mininova's site, the 32-bit edition of Windows 7 build 6801 had been downloaded from that single site nearly 5,000 times by Monday afternoon.

Users who download and use the pre-beta code may have Microsoft looking over their shoulders, however, according to one analyst who tracks the company. Microsoft, he said, normally puts extra code into pre-release software in order to track testers' behaviors in order to help track down bugs when they occur.

"If [pirate users] can get the pre-beta software to work, they're also probably transmitting their activities to Microsoft," Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies, who received a six-hour briefing on Windows 7 at the PDC last week, told InternetNews.com.

His early observations of the legit code?

"The initial look is that it's a lot better than Vista," Kay added.

Besides talking at length about Windows 7 at the PDC (with more than 20 sessions dedicated to the topic), Microsoft's head of Windows engineering and Windows Live engineering, Steven Sinofsky, featured the upcoming replacement for Vista during his keynote speech last Tuesday.

Additionally, with Microsoft's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) beginning this Wednesday, Sinofsky is scheduled, along with Microsoft vice president of the core operating system division, Jon DeVann, to talk further about Windows 7. The company has more than 20 sessions on Windows 7 at WinHEC as well.

Although there is no word yet whether attendees at that show will also receive the vetted code from Microsoft, given that hardware developers are such an important Windows constituency, it seems likely that they will also receive the pre-beta build or a later one.

Microsoft has said an official beta test of Windows 7 will start early next year, although media reports previous to last week pegged it closer to the end of 2008.