Microsoft ditches Windows 7 beta download limit

It will be available through January 24; company apologises for foul-up

Microsoft on Saturday ditched the download limit on Windows 7 beta, saying that users will be able to grab the preview through January 24 -- even if the total exceeds the 2.5 million cap it had set earlier.

The company also apologized for the stalled servers that prevented users from obtaining the operating system preview on Friday, the day the public beta was originally slated to launch.

"I know many of you have had issues with the Windows 7 beta site over the last 24 hours," company spokesman Brandon LeBlanc acknowledged in a posting to Microsoft's Windows 7 blog late Saturday. "We apologize for the inconvenience that it caused some of you."

Rather than cap the number of beta activation keys at 2.5 million -- the original plan to limit the test pool -- Microsoft will instead make Windows 7 available for two weeks, though January 24, said LeBlanc. If fewer than 2.5 million people request and receive activation keys during that time, Microsoft will continue to offer the beta until the limit is reached.

"However, the more likely scenario is that we will surpass 2.5 million downloads, and so the beta downloads will be stopped after the 24th," wrote Kevin Remdes, a Microsoft-employed IT evangelist, on his blog Sunday.

The move came after Microsoft fumbled the Windows 7 public beta launch on Friday. At midday, it postponed the beta, citing "very heavy traffic" and saying it needed to beef up its servers and bandwidth to meet demand. Earlier in the day, Microsoft's main page and other URLs had been brought to their knees by users eager to download the preview. Hours later, when a link to the download was added to a page dedicated to IT professionals, users saw only messages such as "Server is too busy," and, "This site is currently experiencing technical difficulties, please check back in the next business day" when they tried to grab the file.

Microsoft restarted the beta launch Saturday, posting links to the download on its main Windows 7 page.

Computerworld had no difficulty on Monday morning reaching the download page, receiving activation keys or initiating downloads of the 32- and 64-bit versions of the new operating system.

After January 24, users will still probably be able to download the beta because Microsoft rarely removes previews from its servers, instead relying on activation-key limits to restrict the number of testers. People who grab the beta after Microsoft stops delivering keys can install the operating system, then run it under Microsoft's usual 30-day trial policy. By using the same "slmgr-rearm" command that gained notoriety after Windows Vista's debut, they can extend that trial period to a total of 120 days.

Microsoft's decision to put a time limit on Windows 7 beta's availability mimics its practice more than two years ago, when it launched Windows Vista Beta 2. That beta, launched June 7, 2006, was available for just over three weeks, through June 30.

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