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Will '7' Be Windows' Lucky Number?

Testers who were able to successfully download and install what promises to be the largest public beta in Windows' history – Windows 7 -- have hit their share of minor snags so far, with emphasis on the "minor" part.

It's fair to say that Microsoft's TechNet forums for Windows 7 beta testers have been busy, with posts by users with problems as well as responses from other users trying to help.

Those problems include mostly minor incompatibilities. Some, while not impacting a lot of users, though, are more serious. For instance, a few users reported problems getting Firefox to run correctly, although most of the posts on that topic were users reporting positive experiences.

Meanwhile, a handful of testers complained on Symantec community forums about problems making the company's antivirus products work with the beta – although Symantec officially does not support its products on Windows 7 until it exits testing and the final version ships.

In fact, overall, the process appears to be going overall fairly smooth now. The only real rough patch was meeting the demand on Friday.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) servers were so overwhelmed even before the Windows 7 public beta was slated to be posted on Friday. A crush of traffic even before the beta build was released forced Microsoft to deploy more servers than originally planned, which ultimately delayed the program's start until Saturday.

"I just want to follow up from yesterday to let you know that Windows 7 beta bits are now live," a Microsoft spokesperson said in an e-mail to InternetNews.com on Saturday.

Additionally, Microsoft removed the 2.5 million download limit it had initially set as the upper limit for the beta test, due to the seemingly huge pent up demand for Beta 1

Mike Nash, corporate vice president of Windows product management, told InternetNews.com last Thursday that the Windows 7 public beta would be the largest Windows beta test ever.

Pent-up demand

However, after users began bombarding the Windows 7 download site, Microsoft decided to broaden the public beta to include more downloads than originally planned.

"As a result … for the next two weeks (through January 24) … you will have access to the beta even if the download number exceeds the 2.5 million unit limit," Brandon LeBlanc, a manager on the Windows Client Communications team, said in a post Saturday on the Windows 7 Team blog.

Indeed, the surging popularity of the Windows 7 beta indicates a pent up demand among users – both corporate and consumer – for a major release of Windows. With those kinds of expectations from users, Microsoft really needs to pull off a coup with Windows 7.

From just the first day or two of availability, in fact, users don't seem to be finding a lot to complain about, with some exceptions. Perhaps a dozen users, including one who claimed to be a Microsoft employee, did report that, for them, the beta freezes when they try to run Windows Live Messenger 2009.

For the most popular beta in Windows long history, though, the early phases of the test cycle seem to bear out the idea that Windows 7 is already very stabil. Activity on Microsoft's forum topics seems to support that, with most of them having replies in the single digits and few topics drawing more than 100 views. Those are clearly small numbers when there are so many copies being downloaded simultaneously.

"It's a good time for Microsoft to take some initiative," Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies, told InternetNews.com. "[The] damage to the Windows brand has been pretty severe since the launch of Vista."

However, Microsoft is well positioned this time around, he said, with the caution that no one can predict the economy at this point. "All the blog sites have given [the beta] thumbs up … I think Windows 7 will actually be a big hit relative to Vista," Kay said.