Microsoft: Next step for Windows 7 is a release candidate

Windows engineering exec confirms move straight to RC from beta, but no dates given.

The head of Microsoft's Windows development confirmed Friday that Windows 7 will take the unusual path of moving straight from a single beta, which was launched earlier this month, to a release candidate.

However, Steven Sinofsky, the senior vice president in charge of the Windows engineering group, declined to spell out a timetable for the rest of the Windows 7's development. "This is in no way an announcement of a ship date, change in plans or change in our previously described process," said Sinofsky in a long entry to a company blog early Friday.

Although Microsoft said last year at several hardware conferences that it would jump from a public beta to a release candidate (RC), Friday Sinofsky fleshed out the plan, and hinted that just as there would be no Beta 2, the company would also not provide a RC2 build.

"At this milestone, we will be very selective about what changes we make between the Release Candidate and the final product, and very clear in communicating them. We will act on the most critical issues," he said. "The point of the Release Candidate is to make sure everyone is ready for the release and that there is time between the Release Candidate and our release to PC makers and manufacturing."

Microsoft usually runs its operating systems through multiple betas and multiple release candidates. It delivered two betas and two release candidates for Windows Vista, for example, during that OS's trouble-plagued development.

But Microsoft has been adamant about speeding up the development process. CEO Steve Ballmer, for instance, famously promised in early 2007 that the company would never again take five years -- the time between Windows XP and Vista -- to roll out a new OS. Company execs have also repeatedly said that Microsoft would deliver Windows 7 within three years of the general availability of Vista, which most analysts have interpreted as no later than early 2010.

The release candidate will, like the beta, be offered to the public, Sinofsky hinted. "We expect, based on our experience with the Beta, a broad set of folks to be pretty interested in trying it out," he said.

While Microsoft last week extended the download deadline of Windows 7's beta by two weeks, interest in the preview was significant enough to overload the company's servers on the originally-scheduled debut date of Jan. 9.

Sinofsky sidestepped any discussion of a delivery date for Windows 7's release candidate, although he sounded optimistic about it. "We're on a good path and we're making progress," he said. "We are taking a quality-based approach to completing the product and won't be driven by imposed deadlines."

As is its practice, Microsoft will not offer the final version -- dubbed RTM, for "release to manufacturing" -- immediately upon announcing that it's wrapped up Windows 7. The delay, Sinofsky explained, is to give computer makers an opportunity to install the OS on new PCs, then get those machines into stores. "We know many folks would like us to make the RTM software available right away for download, but this release will follow our more established pattern," he said.

It took nearly three months for Microsoft's hardware partners to get Vista systems stocked in stores. Although the company announced Vista's RTM in early November 2006 -- and delivered it to volume license customers later that month -- Vista PCs and retail copies of the new OS didn't hit shelves until Jan. 30, 2007.

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Gregg Keizer

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