Windows 7 Inches Ahead Amid Leaks on Ship Date

As Microsoft gets nearer to distributing the “release candidate,” or RC, for Windows 7, the company on Thursday talked up some of the fixes and other changes it plans to incorporate into its final code.

But it may have other worries in the meantime. The previous day, one of Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) hardware partners lent more credence to an earlier-than-expected debut for the new operating system, revealing to the press that Windows 7 would likely become publicly available in the fall.

In no mood to repeat the constant schedule slide that characterized Windows Vista, Microsoft officials have been reluctant to give any date other than the company line — Windows 7 will be out by the time of Vista’s three-year consumer release anniversary on January 30, 2010. Yet a growing body of evidence suggests that Windows 7 will make its appearance far sooner.

In the meantime, there’s plenty to be done before the day that Windows 7 actually does ship, such as fixing bugs and adding minor features before it heads to RC status.

“We’ve been quite busy for the past two months or so, working through all the feedback we’ve received on Windows 7. It should be no surprise but the Release Candidate for Windows 7 will have quite a few changes, many under the hood, so to speak, but also many visible,” Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president of Windows and Windows Live engineering, wrote in a post on Microsoft’s Engineering Windows 7 blog.

It’s all in the timing

Part of the reason that Sinofsky and his team are so busy may be that they’re working to ensure Windows 7 makes its debut ahead of Microsoft’s public timeline.

That theory got another shot in the arm this week when Ray Chen, president of Taipei-based Compal Electronics, revealed to Bloomberg News that the actual general availability date for Windows 7 would be far sooner than the software giant had been claiming.

“According to current planning, it should be late September or early October,” Ray Chen, whose company is a Microsoft hardware partner and makes laptop computers for HP and Acer, told Bloomberg.

Microsoft dismissed Chen’s comments, however, instead providing the same statement it has offered to questions about Windows 7’s schedule for the past year.

“We expect Windows 7 to ship approximately three years from the Windows Vista consumer general availability launch,” a Microsoft spokesperson told in an e-mail Thursday. has previously reported that Microsoft has a target date to ship the Windows 7 RC — the final testing phase before a program is “released to manufacturing” or RTM. That could mean Microsoft is aiming for a mid-April RC, followed by an RTM of June 3.

Even if RTM does occur in early June, however, some analysts have voiced the opinion that it may still as many as five months to fill the channel and have Windows 7 systems for sale.

While that would mean that Windows 7 will have missed the back-to-school rush in late summer, that timing would still allow plenty of time for Windows 7 to be the major focus of sales during the upcoming holiday shopping season.

“Late September or early October is really ideal [for launching Windows 7],” Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for The NPD Group, told “It gives you [the retailers] the chance to ramp up for the holidays.”

Another analyst, though, thinks even late September may be too late. That is, there’s a lot to do in those four or five months in order to assure a smooth launch.

“The problem is that for Microsoft to get this out for Christmas, they need to get it into the hands of retailers by mid-November,” Michael Silver, research vice president for client computing at Gartner, told

“It will be surprising if it slips into October, and if it slips, that puts Christmas [sales] in jeopardy,” Silver said.

Will Windows 7 make it on time?

Windows Vista beta testing began in late July 2005, and its first RC debuted in early September 2006, more than a year later. Vista was finally ready to RTM in late October 2006.

Vista was finally generally available to enterprise customers in late November 2006, while consumer availability came two months later in January 2007.

Of course, Vista was a “major” update to Windows. Shipping in early 2007, it followed Windows XP by nearly six years.

Windows 7, despite significant changes made to the system’s kernel to make it smaller and faster, is viewed by many observers as a relatively minor update from Vista. As a result, it could take less testing and require fewer fixes since at its core is Vista’s now well-tested code that has been in commercial use for two years already.

It might make more sense to compare Windows 7’s testing and release cycle to Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1), which shipped to end users in mid-March last year.

Vista SP1 was RTMed in early February. Beta testing of SP1 began in late September 2007 and it finished, with the beginning of the RC phase of testing, in early December 2007.

So beta testing took a little more than two months, about the same amount of time envisioned for Windows 7. Beyond the beta, RC testing took from early December 2007 to early February 2008 – also about two months.

It should be no surprise then that the two processes are so close in timing. Both projects were headed by the same executive.

Windows chief Sinofsky took over the Windows program after Vista shipped, and has guided the development of Windows 7, as well as two service packs for Vista, SP1 released this time last year, and SP2 just entering RC stage this week.

Last-minute changes

Sinofsky, who previously headed Microsoft Office development, has a historically different take on product development. He prefers to have short beta tests at the end of the development process.

An article that accompanies the blog post cites a list of fixes and updates that Microsoft developers have made to the code based on beta test feedback.

For instance, developers have speeded up the opening time for the Start menu. Additionally, they have added Alt/Tab window support in a user interface tool to help users called Aero Peek. Perhaps most notably, Microsoft is changing the way Windows 7 handles User Account Control activities.

“Most of the blog [post] talked about user interface stuff so what’s left to do on some of the enterprise features is unknown,” Silver added, describing his experiences with the beta as “pretty solid.”

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