Microsoft is on tap to talk publicly about and show off Windows 7 at two of its upcoming tech conferences this fall. But that does not mean the Windows team necessarily will be distributing bits at those shows.
Along with many other Microsoft watchers, developers and customers, I have been assuming Microsoft was going to provide attendees of its late October Professional Developers Conference (PDC) -- or at least its early November Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) -- with early Windows 7 bits. But according to new information I've received from sources that have asked not to be named, Microsoft is not planning to make Beta 1 of Windows 7 available until mid-December.
A small and select group of testers already have gotten their hands on Windows 7 builds. Microsoft has released two M ("milestone") designated Windows 7 builds (M1 and M2), plus various interim updates, to select customers and partners who have been sworn to secrecy. And the Windows client team is in the midst of putting finishing touches on M3, I hear.
But Beta 1? Currently it's not in the cards for Microsoft to release this code to testers until a week before Christmas, according to folks claiming to be privvy to Microsoft's Windows 7 schedule.
Might there be some kind of pre-beta -- something like a Community Technology Preview (CTP) build -- that Microsoft will deliver to a broader set of private testers than those currently getting regular internal builds? No customers or partners with whom I have chatted with seem to know for sure. But the consensus seems to be not to expect Microsoft to distribute Windows 7 bits more widely until the Windows 7 is feature-complete or very nearly so.
On September 10, Microsoft acknowledged that it plans to use its Connect site to sign up potential Windows 7 testers at some point. From a posting to the Windows 7 Engineering blog by Christina Storm, a program manager on the Windows Customer Engineering feature team:
"When we release the Windows 7 beta we will also be collecting feedback from this (Windows Feedback) panel and asking for participation from a set of Windows 7 beta users.Our current plans call for signing up for the beta to happen in the standard Microsoft manner on http://connect.microsoft.com. Stay tuned!"
If Microsoft does release Beta 1 of Windows 7 in mid-December, that will mean the company is aiming to deliver the final Windows 7 product less than a year after the official beta begins. (As I've noted previously, Microsoft has said, publicly and privately, that late 2009 is the target date for shipping Windows 7. The "you can't claim we're late" date remains the first part of 2010.)
Would a less-than-year-long beta (for what Microsoft is calling a "major" Windows release) be unprecedented? Not really. Short betas of products pretty much cast in stone aren't unusual from the Office team, from which current Windows engineering chief Steven Sinofsky hails.
What's your take? Is a less-than-year-long beta long enough for Windows 7? Is December 2008 early enough for you to start kicking the tires of a product expected to ship in the latter half of 2009?