Microsoft flip-flops, will give free Windows 7 to some beta testers

Invite-only Technical Beta testers will get 'Ultimate' version

Microsoft made a U-turn today and announced that it would hand out free copies of Windows 7 Ultimate to the invitation-only testers who received the very earliest builds of the OS last year.

"To show our appreciation, members of the invitation-only Windows 7 Technical Beta Program will be eligible for a free, final copy of Windows 7 Ultimate," said Microsoft spokesman Brandon LeBlanc in a post to a company blog. Just last week, LeBlanc had categorically said that no testers would receive a copy gratis.

Users who downloaded the public beta or release candidate, however, are not eligible for the thank you.

"If you were invited to join the Windows Technical Beta Program, you are eligible to receive a free final copy of Windows 7 Ultimate," added Anthony Mann, the Microsoft employee who manages the Windows forums on TechNet. "If you were not sent an invitation to participate, this offer does not apply to you."

Microsoft kicked off the Technical Beta Program last September, when it started taking applications on its Connect site, a clearinghouse for all its beta programs.

Today, Microsoft declined to disclose the number of testers who will receive the free copy of Windows 7, citing company policy regarding Technical Betas.

Windows 7 is slated for public release Oct. 22, but subscribers to the for-pay TechNet and MSDN services will be able to download the final code, along with legitimate product activation keys, starting next Thursday.

The "full-package" version of Windows 7 Ultimate will retail for $319.99, while the upgrade edition will be priced at $219.99.

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