Analyst: Microsoft may deliver Windows 7 beta within 8 weeks

It will want to hand developers something at PDC or WinHEC

Windows 7 screenshot

Windows 7 screenshot

Microsoft won't likely miss the chance to showcase Windows 7 in the next two months at a pair of tech conferences, and will give developers code for hands-on work, an analyst said Monday.

Windows 7, the follow-on to Vista, is already on the agendas of the Professional Developers Conference (PDC), scheduled October 27-30, and Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), slated for November 5-7, but Microsoft will likely provide early code to developers at one or both of the shows, said Michael Cherry, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft.

"When that many developers [come] together, you want them to go home with something that they can play with," said Cherry. "Microsoft will want to do more than just tell developers about Windows 7."

Of the two conferences, Cherry put his money on WinHEC as the most likely target for Microsoft. "It's a small grouping by number," he reasoned, "so I think they are more likely to get something." That smaller number, he said, might be more attractive to Microsoft, which until recently has played Windows 7 closer to its vest than previous editions.

"Microsoft might have some concerns about the early code getting reviewed," said Cherry. "They won't want anyone to do any performance testing with a beta, but once it's out it's inevitable that those of us as analysts will starting writing our impressions about the early code. Analysts abhor a vacuum."

The timing of a Windows 7 beta will be important in gauging the company's progress toward its stated goal of releasing the OS three years after the debut of Vista. Analysts have typically interpreted that to mean Windows 7 will ship either in the second half of 2009 or in early 2010.

While acknowledging that Microsoft "has a whole slew of decisions it has to make" about Windows 7 before issuing a beta, Cherry noted that historically, the company has delivered something at these conferences, even if at times it's been "some really rough code" that has been more alpha than beta.

"I fully expect that people will get bits," said Cherry, referring to the WinHEC event.

But he also played it safe by positing that those bits may not be what he thinks. "Those bits may not be for an operating system," Cherry speculated. "If you try to think why they would not give developers early code for Windows 7, one reason is that they intend to give them things to work on in the Live areas."

Microsoft's Live efforts involve meshing the company's Windows operating system on the desktop with software and services delivered from the cloud, and include both consumer- and enterprise-designed tools. Some reports have claimed that Microsoft will uncouple some of the applications integrated into Vista -- such as its Windows Mail client -- from the OS itself and instead make them accessible as a Web service or after-purchased download.

Until last week, Microsoft had said almost nothing about a Windows 7 beta. Last Wednesday, however, a company manager said that Microsoft would collect beta testers using its usual process. "Our current plans call for signing up for the beta to happen in the standard Microsoft manner on http://connect.microsoft.com," said Christina Storm, a Microsoft program manager, in an entry to the "Engineering Windows 7" blog last week.

On Sunday, Windows blogger Paul Thurrott said that Microsoft, reportedly testing Windows 7 internally, hopes to wrap up a beta in time to hand it out at next month's PDC.

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Gregg Keizer

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