Microsoft plans to start handing out the first beta copies of Windows 7 on January 13, according to recent postings on three of the software giant's blogs.
The company already handed out pre-beta copies of the pending replacement for Windows Vista at two major developer conferences it held in Los Angeles in late October and early November.
However, the beta copies to be given out beginning in January will be "feature complete," unlike the ones handed out this fall.
"I'm really excited about the first fully feature complete release of Windows 7," independent industry analyst, Peter O'Kelly, told InternetNews.com. He said he has been using the October pre-beta release almost daily and has been impressed with its stability.
Although the company will only say it plans final delivery of Windows 7 to come within three years of the consumer release of Windows Vista – which was January 30, 2007 – many analysts believe Microsoft's real target is actually six or seven months earlier.
At the two conferences earlier this fall, Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president of the Windows and Windows Live engineering group, told the audiences that Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) would begin beta testing Windows 7 in early 2009, although some observers had expect betas beginning this month. There has also been speculation that Microsoft will launch the beta in early January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, although that seems unlikely now.
The first beta copies will go to attendees at a series of $99 events called MSDN Developer Conferences that Microsoft will begin holding around the country beginning next week. Although three of the events – to be held in Houston, Orlando, and Atlanta – are scheduled this month, those attendees will be mailed the beta DVDs when they are available, the blog posts said.
The MDC events will be day-long events meant to provide developers with much of the information that attendees at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference in late October were provided.
Other stops on the so-called MDC tour include Chicago and Minneapolis (both on January 13), as well as Washington D.C., New York, Boston, Detroit, Dallas, and San Francisco. The last event is set for February 19.
But Microsoft remains mum on when it will broaden beta testing to include the full public -- the next step in the development process.
"We expect to deliver beta in early 2009 and we continue to be on track to deliver against that development milestone," was all a Microsoft spokesperson was willing to say in a statement e-mailed to InternetNews.com. However, the Web site for the MDC events refers to the release as "Beta 1," implying that there may be a second beta which would target end users.
It is imperative for the company to hit a final delivery date sometime during the summer so as not to miss the crucial holiday buying season -- given that it takes several months after Microsoft provides the "golden" code to OEMs for PCs with it pre-installed to fill sales channels.
In fact, InternetNews.com reported in September that Microsoft's internal target for Windows 7's release is more like early June.
Lateness of delivery was one of the main problems with Vista's roll out to consumers in January 2007. PCs with Vista pre-installed were not available until after the 2006 holiday season, so PCs sold at that time came with Windows XP.
Sinofsky, who had been in charge of Office development for several years, was brought in to revamp the development process for Windows after Vista finally shipped. However, he's known to loathe giving out dates that can be tracked against and complained about by analysts, users, and the media.
That may or may not be a bad trait.
"Sinofsky's MO [modus operandi] has always been to release it [a product] when it's ready, but always to meet schedules," O'Kelly said.
Meanwhile, however, machinations around trying to keep the market for new PCs from foundering prior to Vista's consumer delivery led to a class-action lawsuit that is currently wending its way through federal court.
Microsoft's disclosure of the Windows 7 beta test comes the same week that the company has begun the public beta of Vista Service Pack 2.