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Windows 7 Released to Manufacturing

Windows 7
It might feel a little too "inside baseball" to excite general consumers, but the moment for which potential Windows 7 customers, tech aficionados, and financial analysts have been waiting impatiently has finally arrived.

Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Windows Division, announced in a blog post that Windows 7 has reached its Release to Manufacturing (RTM) milestone.

"Today marks an important milestone in the Windows 7 project. The Windows 7 team is proud to share with you that a short while ago we have started to release Windows 7 to PC OEM and manufacturing partners," he wrote in a blog post.

The news means that Microsoft has signed off on build 7600.16385 of the upcoming and closely watched OS, setting the stage for it to begin arriving in the hands of partners within days.

Many customers will undoubtedly go "Huh?" when they hear that news, but they'll feel the impact of today's news in a few short months, when Windows 7 begins appearing on store shelves and installed on new PCs on Oct. 22 -- a milestone known as "General Availability" or GA.

RTM is the point at which all the Microsoft executives who have responsibility for Windows 7 sign off on the final code. From there, PC vendors and retail outlets can begin their own processes of locking down plans for delivering Windows 7 in preparation for its release date.

"The RTM code will be delivered to our partners within the next few days who will then start preparing to deliver some amazing new products timed to hit at GA of Windows 7," Microsoft spokesman Brandon LeBlanc said in a blog post.

In an earlier post on Tuesday, LeBlanc described who will receive the RTM version prior to the October launch. PC OEMs will begin receiving the so-called "gold" code within the next two or three days, for example.

To some users who have Microsoft TechNet or MSDN subscriptions, RTM also means they will be able to download the final gold code as early as two weeks from now -- on August 6. Volume Licensees with Software Assurance can begin downloading the RTM code on August 7.

For financial analysts, the phrase RTM has a solid ring to it -- the "Ka-ching" of cash bound for Microsoft's coffers. That's the sign that a new revenue cycle has begun right at the beginning of Microsoft's 2010 fiscal year, which started July 1.

Getting to this point hasn't been without a little excitement -- and a false start or two.

For instance, last week, a senior executive had apparently been set to announce RTM at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans, but held back at the last minute. The text of his announcement, however, remained in the speech transcript. Microsoft tossed that off as an editing error, though it appeared to have implied that RTM had been close last week.

Windows 7 isn't alone in being RTMed, either. Because it shares the same code base with Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 Release 2 (R2) has also been RTMed, Microsoft said.

Windows Server 2008 R2 will be available on or before Windows 7's October launch date. TechNet, MSDN, and Volume License members will be able to download Windows Server 2008 R2 in the second half of August, a company spokesperson said in an e-mail.

Update adds statements from Sinofsky and LeBlanc.