Microsoft has begun making its Windows 7 Release Candidate available to major hardware partners for testing, taking a step closer to final release for the closely watched successor to Windows Vista.
According to a note on Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) Partner Program Web site, the official Release Candidate for Windows 7 is available for download through the company’s TechNet and Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) services.
However, the only people who can get it are Technical Adoption Program (TAP) Gold members, which limits the release to major OEM partners.
Still, Microsoft said that in the posting that a public RC build would be available on May 5, 2009. The company has promised a publicly available RC build before the software goes final.
A “Release Candidate” is Microsoft parlance for a product in its final stage of testing. The product is considered feature-complete and the testing now is for “showstopper” bugs — severe bugs that can affect a large number of people and easily reproducible.
Microsoft operating systems have in the past shipped with a list of known bugs, but they were always small in scope and potential influence; an example would be when a certain app used with an unusual hardware configuration might in some circumstances cause a problem. Because the problem is so esoteric and limited in effect, Microsoft simply leaves it to be fixed after final product shipment.
In a Jan. 30 posting on the Engineering Windows 7 blog, Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president for Windows and Windows Live Engineering and head of the Windows 7 development team, said there would only be one Release Candidate.
Microsoft has been talking about Release Candidates for months but thus far has been non-committal on a date. Last month, MSDN accidentally published a page disclosing plans for the public RC in May. Microsoft quickly retracted the page, but sites like Ars Technica had already taken screen shots and posted them in their articles.
Posting a Release Candidate already shows what a remarkable job Sinofsky has done keeping his team on track. Previous Windows releases were notoriously late by months and even years. This time, the team is keeping to its schedule.
In September, InternetNews.com first reported that Windows 7 would ship in June 2009, not the first quarter of 2010 like Microsoft has been saying for the record.
At the time, Microsoft had set April 14, 2009 as its target date for a Release Candidate. The posting on the Partner Program site means it was off by just three or four days — remarkable for a projection made seven months ago.