Microsoft restarts botched Windows 7 beta downloads

After 24-hour delay, activates download pages and begins handing out keys

Microsoft Corp. on Saturday restarted its rollout of the Windows 7 beta, 24 hours after it aborted the launch because heavy demand had stalled its servers.

As of noon PST, the company said that the primary beta download site, an offshoot of the Windows section of Microsoft.com, was "up and working."

Computerworld confirmed that the Windows 7 beta download page was online and taking download requests. Springboard Series, another public download location targeting IT professionals, was also live.

Also on Saturday, Microsoft was providing beta activation keys, offering them to users just prior to beginning the download. Computerworld was able to obtain an activation key, download the 32-bit version of the beta, and install and activate Windows 7.

Originally slated to start Friday at noon PST, Windows 7's public debut was postponed by Microsoft, which cited "very heavy traffic" across its Web properties. "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," a spokeswoman said Friday afternoon.

On Wednesday, when Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced the Friday launch of the public beta, he urged everyone to grab a copy. "I encourage you all to get out and download it," he said.

Ballmer's comment, as well as the fact that Microsoft said it would cap the number of activation keys for the beta at 2.5 million, may have contributed to the crush of users who attempted to reach the download sites on Friday. Hours before the beta was to be posted, in fact, Microsoft's main page and other URLs were sporadically unavailable.

Later in the day, attempts to reach the download via the Springboard Series page, which for a time touted the beta, were stymied, with users seeing messages such as "Server is too busy," and "This site is currently experiencing technical difficulties, please check back in the next business day."

Users blasted Microsoft for Friday's snafu on the company's own blog. In comments posted to the postponement announcement, some raged at Microsoft's inability to launch the beta as promised. "I'm disappointed, and many others are too," said a user identified as "AA4PC" in a comment Friday evening. "The delay is going to hurt the credibility of Microsoft statements."

"Couldn't you learn anything from [the] last Vista beta distributions?" asked another user, "Seagull."

In June 2006, Microsoft urged users to order a DVD copy of Windows Vista Beta 2 preview rather than download the disk image, claiming that boosting bandwidth even more 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.

Microsoft also reportedly considered, then rejected, distributing Vista Beta 2 using the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol, an idea that several users pitched to the company via blog comments on Friday and Saturday.

"Time to give the torrent some love," argued "Xepol" on the same comment thread. "It isn't like it isn't already on BitTorrent ... Microsoft might as well benefit from it." Over the past two weeks, pirated copies of the 32- and 64-bit Windows 7 beta build leaked to BitTorrent sites.

Users can begin the beta download by heading to this page on the Windows 7 site, then selecting the 32- or 64-bit version, and the desired language.

More details on the download and Windows 7 can be found in the FAQ and recent review of the new operating system posted to Computerworld's site.

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