After the Wait, Windows 7 Is Almost Here

Windows 7 Release Candidate

Users, start your downloads: The race is on.

While racing of all sorts is a spring ritual, this time it isn’t the (just passed) Kentucky Derby or the Indianapolis 500 (still almost three weeks away).

Instead, Tuesday is opening day for the last public test of Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) Windows 7 — and if the beta test last winter was any indication — it’s going to be a doozy.

“It’s the next important milestone on the path toward releasing the product,” Michael Cherry, lead analyst for operating systems at Directions on Microsoft, told InternetNews.com. “I’ve been working with it for couple of days and I’m pleasantly impressed.”

Users can likely expect long waits to get to download the near-final release of Windows 7, just as they did in January when the beta test began. Beginning Tuesday, the download will be available from the Windows 7 site, according to Microsoft.

Called a “Release Candidate” in Microsoft slang, or RC for short, the RC is the last testing phase for Windows 7 before it goes on sale. It is a coming out party of sorts, sporting all the changes that came out of the beta process. It’s an opportunity for consumers and IT shops to kick the tires one last time before Windows 7 hits store shelves — most likely in the late summer or early fall.

When the beta of Windows 7 kicked off in January, in fact, demand was so high that the company had to delay the public beta nearly a day due to massive interest that caused download servers to crash.

Microsoft brought more servers online, and quickly lifted the limits it had placed on how many users could download and test it. Up until that point, the beta was capped at 2.5 million users. A Microsoft spokesperson declined to disclose actual numbers.

On Thursday, Microsoft first made the RC available to technical users — subscribers to its TechNet and MSDN services. Once again, servers were initially briefly unavailable, but this time the outage lasted only two or three hours long and turned out to be related to a database re-indexing problem.

However, it’s difficult to estimate how Microsoft can plan any better for the RC than it did for the beta. “I don’t know how you plan for something this big,” Cherry said.

The RC will be available from May 5 through July, according to statements posted on Microsoft’s Windows 7 page.

So far, at least, the RC testing has been progressing uneventfully. A random survey of several Windows 7 community forums since Thursday found few users registering serious complaints.

Next page: Hasta la vista, Vista?

Page 2 of 2.

Hasta la vista, Vista?

In the run up to Tuesday, rumors and confusing information sprouted like mushrooms after a rainstorm.

For instance, some observers played up the fact that the RC will work until June 1, 2010 — touting the extra time as using Windows 7 for “free.” That’s not exactly the case.

Beginning on March 1, 2010, the RC will start warning users that time is running out. Two weeks later, the PC will automatically begin shutting down every two hours, according to a statement on Microsoft’s Springboard site.

Perhaps some users would tolerate the constant interruptions, but many users would not take kindly to a computer that shuts down ever two hours — obviously, that’s the point: selling upgrades.

There are practical, as well as commercial reasons, to not running the RC code longer term. “This is not final code … it’s a test version,” Directions on Microsoft’s Cherry added.

In another rumor, a manager in Microsoft’s Asia Pacific sales region, reportedly said over the weekend that the company is looking at discontinuing sales of Windows Vista soon after Windows 7 ships. That is possible but it too is just rumor, so far.

“Until a product is retired, OEMs will still have the option to pre-install and retailers will be able to sell whatever versions of Windows they choose,” the Microsoft spokesperson said in an e-mail to InternetNews.com.

“But … the policy generally is to keep on selling product for four years after it ships,” the spokesperson continued. That would mean that, if Microsoft follows its own policies, Vista should still be available for sale until January 2011. Meanwhile, mainstream support for Vista runs until April 2012.

One rumor that may turn out to be true, could benefit Microsoft’s and customers’ interests. Tech enthusiast site TechArp reported in early January that customers who buy a new PC running Vista between July 1, 2009 and January 31, 2010 will be eligible for a free upgrade with Windows 7 when it ships.

Microsoft did not confirm the report, but it didn’t quash it either.

“The Tech Guarantee program is something Microsoft has deployed with past operating systems, including Windows XP and Windows Vista. We do this to drive partner and customer satisfaction and increase customer confidence and satisfaction with their pre-launch purchase,” the Microsoft spokesperson said.

“We will provide upgrade options for Windows 7 similar to what we have provided with other versions of Windows,” the spokesperson added.

TechArp has had a good track record in obtaining Microsoft documents, particularly delivery dates for Windows operating systems and service packs, going back to this time last year.

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