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Originally published April 30, 2009 at 6:00 AM | Page modified April 30, 2009 at 5:13 PM

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Final tests start on Microsoft Windows 7; release later this year?

Microsoft today officially starts its final testing phase for Windows 7, the next upgrade of its trademark product. That news has many wondering when the final product will be available on the market.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Microsoft today officially starts its final testing phase for Windows 7, the next upgrade of its trademark product. That news has many wondering when the final product will be available on the market.

For the past few months, rumors have swirled that Windows 7 could be available by the holiday season, and some sources in the company say it could ship to PC manufacturers before the end of the summer.

The company has declined to comment, saying it is focused on this final testing phase.

It previously said Windows 7 would ship in early 2010. But some analysts noted that in its third-quarter earnings report last week, Microsoft said it expected the operating system to ship in fiscal 2010, which begins July 1.

With the exact shipping date still unclear, the company is making the release candidate available to developers after incorporating comments from a public beta-testing period. The release candidate will also be made available to the public Tuesday.

"That's what it means for us internally," said Bill Veghte, senior vice president for the Windows business.

"We've taken all this feedback, we've listened and learned; now we've assembled it into a release candidate, and that triggers final testing phase for us internally."

Windows 7 is heir to Vista, which was released after many delays in January 2007 to widespread criticism for not playing well with hardware and software from other companies.

In an interview last week, Veghte said 10,000 partners, a record number, are already testing and preparing their software and hardware to work with Windows 7 and create a healthy "ecosystem."

Executives have described Windows 7 as all the things Windows Vista should have been — fast, intuitive, consumer-friendly.

Desktop icons scattered across the computer screen will be eliminated in favor of a souped-up taskbar across the bottom. Run a mouse over each application in the taskbar, and a preview screen pops up showing that application's contents.

The software also makes it easier to manage several windows at once and resize them to fit two at a time on a computer screen.

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Windows developers also made home networking easier, so computers on a wireless network, for example, can access music, photos and documents stored on other home computers.

The software is designed to make it simpler to send video to an Xbox-connected television and music to a wireless-speaker system.

Windows 7 will allow a PC to run a virtual version of Windows XP, Vista's predecessor, in case some applications are not yet ready for Windows 7.

"I consider Windows 7 to be a minor upgrade to Vista," said Michael Cherry, of Directions on Microsoft, an independent analyst firm in Kirkland.

"It really smooths out all of Vista's rough edges," he said. "They would love to have machines in stores by the holidays, and that starts with Thanksgiving."

To do that, Microsoft would have to deliver Windows 7 to manufacturers by the end of August.

On the flip side, if Microsoft announces a ship date too soon, Cherry says, consumers will wait to buy computers and possibly sink back-to-school sales.

One way Microsoft could get around it is to offer upgrade guarantees on any computer bought before Windows 7 is ready, he said.

Microsoft will also have to contend with the wet blanket the recession has thrown on consumer and corporate spending.

Veghte said consumers are spending more time on their PCs, watching downloaded movies for instance, instead of going to the theater.

"If Windows 7 can significantly simplify and improve that experience," he said, "then that is tremendous value to the consumer."

For the business customer, Veghte said, Windows 7 will make end users and IT managers more productive.

"If we do those things well, then we save companies money."

Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 or schan@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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