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Is a Windows 7 'Release Candidate' Near

With availability of the Windows 7 beta slated to end less than two weeks from now, the Microsoft executive in charge said Friday that the new operating system is nearing the final testing phase.

That may be a strong hint that Windows 7 is on, or even ahead of, schedule. It's not the first time executives have hinted at an earlier-than-expected delivery.

In early January when the long-awaited beta was publicly released, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) executives said they were already looking beyond the main testing phase to what's called the Release Candidate.

Friday's post echoes that. "The next milestone for the development of Windows 7 is the Release Candidate or RC," Steven Sinfosky, senior vice president for Windows and Windows Live Engineering, said in a post on the Engineering Windows 7 blog.

RC is the final stage of testing in Microsoft's product development methodology. When beta testing is finished, the company incorporates all the final changes into the "candidate" and it is sent out to a limited number of hardcore testers.

If no "showstopper" bugs are found within a specified span of time, the RC becomes final and is released commercially. If not, changes are made and a second RC is sent out, and so on until a final release is reached.

The implication of Sinofsky's post, on top of earlier pronouncements from other Microsoft senior executives, is clear: there will be no second beta test release of Windows 7.

Indeed, Microsoft revealed last week that the beta will only be available for download until February 10. Microsoft has not said how long the beta test will last but the Windows 7 Beta code is scheduled to expire – stop working – on August 1.

So how stable is the beta after slightly more than three weeks of beta testing? "The question we get most often is 'if the Beta expires in August what will I do — I don’t want to return to my old operating system.' For a Beta release, that is quite a complement and we’re very appreciative of such a kind response," Sinofsky's post said.

At least for some observers, those clues add up to a strong hint that Microsoft is ahead of schedule on getting Windows 7 out. In September, reported that sources said that the company is shooting for release to manufacturing or RTM around June 3.

"Wow, that's pretty aggressive," Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies, told "If you ship in June, that's about right for hitting the back-to-school sales."

Most operating system sales to users come when they purchase a new PC, often in the late summer when school's about to start up, or during the holiday shopping season. It typically takes anywhere from one to three months to get a new operating system installed onto new PCs and fill the sales channels with them.

"The timing seems about right," Al Gillen, research director for system software at IDC, told However, he wondered whether RTM in early June would be early enough to hit the late summer sales. "For back-to-school, that seems a little bit tight," Gillen added.

Microsoft announced the beginning of the public beta of Windows 7 on January 7 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Access by the public at large was set for January 9. However, early demand on the download servers was so high that the public downloads had to be postponed for a day.

Microsoft initially planned to limit the public beta to 2.5 million testers, but later relented and continues to let interested users download the beta.

In perhaps a small twist of intentional irony, Sinofsky's blog posting comes on the second anniversary of Windows Vista's commercial debut on Wall Street. The company is still only promising to have Windows 7 out by this date next year.

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