Microsoft's secrecy gameplan tested as more Win7 screenshots leak

As this week ended, more screenshots of an alleged test build marked as "M3" (Milestone 3) of Windows 7 leaked across the Web -- something about which neither Microsoft nor some of its testers seem very happy.

As this week ended, more screenshots of an alleged test build marked as "M3" (Milestone 3) of Windows 7 leaked across the Web -- something about which neither Microsoft nor some of its testers seem very happy.

Microsoft is believed to have begun releasing M3 builds inside and outside the company to selected testers starting around September 12.

To date, the Windows 7 team has managed to keep a fairly tight lid on test builds. while the M1 build of Windows 7 leaked widely starting at the end of 2007, the M2 build didn't get much traction. But M3 builds seem to be making their way around; I myself saw one M3 build, thanks to a source of mine, earlier this week.

Microsoft officials continue to refuse to discuss Windows 7 or the leaked test builds. When asked anything about Windows 7 features or functionality, Microsoft refers people to its "Engineering Windows 7" blog, authored by members of the Windows 7 team. Entries on the blog so far have focused on Microsoft's processes and thinking about Windows 7 but have said and shown just about nothing about the product itself, which is slated to ship in 2009.

Those testing Windows 7 seem to have a variety of viewpoints about Microsoft's reticence to talk about the product. Some believe that Windows Engineering Chief Steven Sinofsky's policy of being "translucent" rather than "transparent" is a good one -- and point to confusion and disappointment with Windows Vista as proof that Microsoft should not share information early about what it's doing with Windows.

But others are not convinced that secrecy will yield a better product. Some testers with whom I've spoken are unhappy that a first broadscale beta of Windows 7 is not expected until December 2008, just months before Microsoft is hoping to release the product to manufacturing. Even some Microsoft employees are not convinced that the lockdown Microsoft is attempting with Windows 7 is going to result in a better-received product.

Tensions between the "translucency" and "transparency" camps are increasing.

One Windows tester, Cullen Dudas, has contacted at least two Windows enthusiasts this week, seemingly offering them places on the Windows 7 beta if they turned in sources of the Windows 7 leaks.

I asked Dudas whether -- as Windows blogger Rafael Rivera alleged -- he was authorized by officials running the Windows 7 beta program to offer individuals spots on the Windows 7 beta. Dudas responded:

"This is completely over exaggerated.... This is a rumor that has gotten way out of hand. There was an offer made to two individuals who claimed to have information on the leak, and asked if they could get into the beta. I checked with (Windows beta chief) Paul Donnelly, he said that sure, their names would be written down for the beta when it finally did start up. It wasn't any sort of bounty or reward, it was just a path to find out what exactly was going on with the leak."

I also asked Microsoft for official comment as to whether it is attempting to squelch leaks by offering those willing to turn in their sources a place on the Windows 7 beta -- via members of the testing community like Dudas. No word back yet.

If Microsoft does end up providing early Windows 7 bits to attendees of its upcoming Professional Developers Conference and/or Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, I'll be interested to see what the terms and conditions will be on these builds. Will testers be allowed to talk about what they get? Or be bound by non-disclosure agreements? I'll also be interested to see how much Windows 7 changes between these latest M3 builds and Beta 1 in December....

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