Microsoft postpones Windows 7 public beta

'Heavy traffic' swamps company's site, requiring more servers; no ETA on posting time

Microsoft Corp. postponed the rollout of the Windows 7 beta today, citing "very heavy traffic" on its Web site.

The company did not offer a new schedule for delivering the beta of its newest operating system.

"Due to very heavy traffic we're seeing as a result of interest in the Windows 7 Beta, we are adding some additional infrastructure support to Microsoft.com properties before we post the public Beta today," a spokeswoman said in an instant message reply to earlier questions about Microsoft.com's performance. "We want to ensure customers have the best possible experience when downloading the Beta."

On Wednesday, CEO Steve Ballmer promised that the beta would be released to the general public today. Later, a company spokeswoman said that Microsoft would post the beta today at noon PST.

Early today, however, several Microsoft domains, including the main page and the designated download site, were overwhelmed by users eager to grab the beta. Although those URLs were later revived, attempts by Computerworld and others to download Windows 7 from a TechNet page aimed at IT professionals have been stymied for several hours.

Users who have tried to download the beta have been greeted with messages such as "Server is too busy" and "This site is currently experiencing technical difficulties, please check back in the next business day."

The Microsoft spokeswoman did not know when users could expect to download the beta. "No ETA at this point," she said via a follow-up instant message.

Although Microsoft has said it will cap the number of Windows 7 beta activation keys at 2.5 million -- perhaps one of the reasons users felt a sense of urgency today about getting the download -- it is not expected to yank the download after that mark is reached. Users unable to obtain an activation key in the initial rush will still be able to download and install the beta, then run it under the operating system's 30-day trial.

By using the same "slmgr -rearm" command that gained notoriety after Windows Vista's debut, users can extend that trial period to a total of 120 days.

This is not the first time that Microsoft has run into problems offering beta code by download. In June 2006, after it launched Windows Vista Beta 2, it urged users to order a DVD copy of the preview rather than download, claiming that if it boosted its bandwidth enough to handle all the demand, that could cripple the Internet as a whole.

"We are literally saying that if we increased our bandwidth any further there's a possibility of taking down the Internet," an unidentified Microsoft representative told Dutch blogger Steven Bink at the time.

In 2006, Microsoft also reportedly considered, then rejected, distributing Vista Beta 2 using the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol.

Late last month, a copy of a 32-bit Windows 7 build -- later identified as the same as the beta Microsoft began offering developers this week -- leaked to BitTorrent sites. In the past 48 hours, the official beta -- apparently obtained from a subscriber to TechNet, one of Microsoft's paid services used by developers and IT professionals -- has also appeared on BitTorrent sites.

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