Microsoft has released a free trial of Windows 7 for businesses ahead of the operating system's official launch, and has introduced a discount on volume upgrades via resellers.
The company announced the two new ways for businesses to access the operating system for evaluation in a posting on the Windows team blog on Tuesday. Last month, Microsoft made Windows 7 available to MSDN and TechNet subscribers, as well as to companies on a Software Assurance plan.
From Tuesday, Microsoft is offering a 90-day trial of Windows 7 Enterprise for IT professionals who do not have a Software Assurance volume licensing agreement and are not MSDN or TechNet subscribers. Those who want to try before they buy can download Windows 7 from the Springboard Series page on TechNet.
"Many IT pros we talk to have been looking for a way to continue their work with the Release Candidate to test their applications, hardware and deployment strategies with final Windows 7 bits.
"In response, we have created the Windows 7 Enterprise 90-day trial edition, available beginning today," said Microsoft Windows team member Steven L Rose in a separate posting on the Windows team blog.
On the download page, Microsoft maintains that only IT professionals should attempt to download the trial version, as there are "risks" involved. "We do not recommend that you install this if you are a not an IT Professional or not professionally managing corporate networks," the company said.
The Windows 7 trial is available in English, Spanish, French, German and Japanese, and in both 32-bit and 64 bit versions, Microsoft said.
Also on Tuesday, the company began a Volume Licence Availability programme, where companies can opt to upgrade to Windows 7 through a Microsoft Volume Licence Reseller.
"This option is for businesses that don’t already have Windows Software Assurance and want to upgrade their existing business PCs to Windows 7," Microsoft's senior director for Windows, Gavriella Schuster, wrote in the Windows team blog.
There are two parts to the scheme. The first offers volume upgrades to Windows 7 Professional for small and medium-sized businesses. Microsoft is offering a 15 percent discount on this upgrade for licences that will be available until 28 February, 2010.
The software maker was approached to confirm whether the Volume Licence Reseller approach was available in the UK, but had not replied at the time of writing.
The second part of the programme allows those businesses that have a Software Assurance agreement, and that have bought or upgraded to Windows 7 Professional, to install Windows 7 Enterprise.
Companies that want to use the Volume Licence Availability scheme to upgrade must have a "qualifying operating system", such as Windows Vista Business or Windows XP Professional, Microsoft said.
In a report issued in March, analyst firm Gartner predicted that companies would probably wait 12 to 18 months before deploying Windows 7. It said the delay was more likely to be motivated by the wait for software vendors to certify their products on the new platform, rather than the usual wait for a more stable service pack update to be released.
"Windows 7 is an incremental update to Windows Vista, but many independent software vendors will not support their applications running on it for six to 12 months or more. Service Pack 1 should be released well before organisations are ready to deploy Windows 7, so they should plan to integrate it," said Gartner analyst Michael Silver.