Microsoft unveils Windows 7 beta

As anticipated, Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer last week announced the first public beta version of Windows 7 at the International CES trade show.

The beta was scheduled to become available for download on Friday afternoon, although Microsoft at least temporarily postponed the release in order to add more "infrastructure support" to its Web site. That was driven by heavy traffic that overloaded the site hours before the beta code was even due to be posted.

Microsoft said the beta will be capped after the first 2.5 million downloads. But users who aren't able to obtain an activation key can still download the code and run it on a 30-day trial basis. (Editor's note: Microsoft finally started downloads of Windows 7 on Saturday afternoon, while also dropping the 2.5-million download limit that it had previously set.)

The beta, which Microsoft called "feature complete," requires a PC with a 1-GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of available hard-disk space and support for DX9 graphics with 128MB of memory. The company noted that the recommended configuration may change for the final release.

In an interview at CES, Bill Veghte, Microsoft's senior vice president in charge of Windows, said the new operating system should be less of a resource hog than its predecessor, Vista.

"I don't want to make commitments on where we'll be at the [release to manufacturing date]," he said. "But at beta right now, we look very comparable to the hardware requirements that Windows Vista had when it came out, and the hardware has moved on. I am very optimistic."

Ballmer didn't disclose a final launch date for the operating system. Microsoft to date has said that it would deliver Windows 7 by about this time next year.

Some analysts, however, expect Microsoft to ship Windows 7 in time for this year's back-to-school and holiday shopping seasons. Vista shipped in early 2007, missing those crucial sales periods in 2006.

Niccolai writes for the IDG News Service. This version of the story originally appeared in Computerworld's print edition.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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