Windows 7 ‘Release Candidate’ Debuts for Some

Microsoft began limited distribution of the final test version of Windows 7 on Thursday — putting final release of the planned replacement for Windows Vista that much closer to reality.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) also finally revealed this week that, although the company has repeatedly promised that Windows 7 would be out by next January 30, a senior official was quoted as saying having it ready for sale before the end of the year is “accomplishable,” according to the Windows IT Pro blog site.

However, Microsoft officials wouldn’t confirm the “accomplishable” quote or stray from past remarks in a follow-up request for comment. A spokesman repeated the standard party line that Windows 7 will be out by the third anniversary of Vista’s consumer launch in January 2007 in an e-mail sent to InternetNews.com.

Called a “Release Candidate” or RC, Thursday’s release marks the start of the last testing phase before Windows 7 is “Released to Manufacturing” — RTM in Microsoft’s lexicon. After RTM, it can take between two and five months for a major Microsoft operating system release to fill distribution channels and actually reach public sale.

Microsoft confirmed late last week that it would begin releasing the first — and probably, only — RC to subscribers to its MSDN and TechNet technical services as of April 30.

The public will be able to download and test Windows 7 RC beginning on May 5, the company said last week.

“We heard partners and customers and worked hard to deliver the highest quality Release Candidate in the history of Windows,” Bill Veghte, senior vice president for the Windows business, said in a statement released today. “We have more partner support than we’ve ever had for an RC and are pleased to say that the Windows 7 RC has hit the quality and compatibility bar for enterprises to start putting it through its paces and testing in earnest.”

Timing is everything

InternetNews.compreviously reported that Microsoft’s OEM and developer partners received the RC in mid-April.

Throughout the development cycle for Windows 7, Microsoft has tried to keep significant information, particularly dates for various milestones in the process, under wraps but with little success.

InternetNews.com reported last September that Microsoft was aiming for an RC release in mid-April and an RTM date in early June.

However, a month ago, cracks started to show in the company’s careful planning. With the public RC pushed off until early May, it appeared that Windows 7 had experienced a schedule slide, possibly due to the half million comments and bug reports users submitted during beta test, which began in early January.

Instead of an RTM date in early June, therefore, some observers are now pegging RTM as late June or even July, pushing Windows 7’s final release out past the late summer back-to-school sales.

Next page: Happy holidays for Microsoft and partners?

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Happy holidays for Microsoft and partners?

“They’re [Microsoft] clearly on a timeline that gets it [Windows 7] out in time for the holidays,” Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at NPD Group, told InternetNews.com. “Even if they’re done [with RC testing and have RTMed] in two months, they really need it done now if they’re going to get it out by back-to-school.”

That’s not likely, he said, but it may not be bad news overall. While it might be possible for Microsoft to get at least some Windows 7 product into the channel by September, users — both corporate and consumer — may not have the cash to buy new PCs or new upgrade software until a hoped for financial upturn. Waiting for the all important holiday sales may, then, work in Microsoft’s favor.

“I’d like to see the economy settle down a little bit first, so another couple of months shouldn’t hurt,” Baker added.

Indeed, an Acer executive reportedly told gadget site Pocket-lint, Thursday, that it will begin selling PCs with Windows 7 pre-installed on October 23 — right in line with Baker’s predictions — too late for back-to-school but in plenty of time for the holiday season.

“23rd October is the date the Windows 7 will be available. There is a 30 day upgrade time so that customers don’t wait to buy a new computer, so if you buy during that 30 day period, you’ll get a free upgrade to Windows 7”, Bobby Watkins, Acer’s UK managing director, reportedly told Pocket-lint.

Meanwhile, the Windows 7 RC has a couple of additions to what users saw during the beta test cycle. High on that list is what Microsoft calls “Windows XP Mode,” or XPM, a virtualization capability that lets users run XP applications that might be incompatible with the new operating system to actually run alongside Windows 7, providing compatibility for orphaned applications.

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