FAQ: How to get the Windows 7 beta

Microsoft this week is putting the new OS in everyone's hands

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There are also plenty of for-free DVD-burning programs out there; Microsoft recommended ImgBurn, which you can download here.

That's it? Nothing else? Last thing, we swear. The Windows 7 beta will only upgrade a machine running Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1), although there are reports that systems with the beta of Vista SP2 also can be upgraded.

So if you're still running Windows XP -- which a lot of people are, what with Vista's problems, real or imagined -- you're up a creek sans the proverbial paddle as far as an upgrade is concerned. You can do a clean install of Windows 7 on the PC, assuming it meets the system requirements, but you'll lose all your data and applications.

Is Microsoft limiting the beta? Yes, it is. The company said it will close out the beta after 2.5 million downloads.

Really? So if I'm late to the party, I'm out of luck? Not really. The 2.5 million number is how many activation keys Microsoft will hand out to beta testers, not the number of actual downloads. (Yes, Windows 7 retains product activation.)

Microsoft won't pull the download after the 2.5 million, it will just stop handing out keys.

Minus a key, you can still download and install the beta, then run it for 30 days before it quits on you. And by using the same "slmgr -rearm" command that gained notoriety after Windows Vista's debut, you can extend that trial period to 120 days.

Several blogs have posted instructions on how to use this legal method to extend the life span of Windows 7 previews, including "My Digital Life."

What edition of Windows 7 is the beta? Microsoft said the beta is "roughly equivalent" to Vista Ultimate, which is a strong hint that the preview is actually Windows 7 Ultimate.

Microsoft is being cagey here because it refuses to say how many different editions of Windows 7 it will eventually sell, what they contain and how much they'll cost. Some have speculated, however, that unlike Windows Vista, which comes in five flavors -- Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, Enterprise and Ultimate -- Windows 7 will be sold in four versions: Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate. How big is the download? Microsoft has not said, but since the beta's build designation of 7000.0.081212-1400 is identical to copies that have leaked to BitTorrent, it's a good bet that the official download will be the same as the pirated files.

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