Microsoft may be preparing to release the first and possibly the only "release candidate" for Windows 7 in March or April, the final stage in the development cycle.
Thus far, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has maintained the party line that Windows 7 will ship in the first quarter of 2010. Steven Sinofsky, the executive leading the development of Windows 7, has already said publicly that Microsoft is focused on the RC phase of development, but he gave no timeline as to when that will be.
However, TechARP, a tech enthusiast Web site in Malaysia, says that it has learned that Microsoft will ship the "release candidate" of Windows 7 in April – and that could put Windows 7 on users' desktops sooner than they might expect.
"Microsoft is targeting an April '09 release of their Release Candidate (RC) build [of Windows 7]," said an article posted on TechArp's site in recent days.
In Microsoft parlance, the last phase of testing after beta testing is completed is called a "release candidate." That is, it is a candidate to be the final code released to the public. Microsoft officials have said they're nearly ready to begin RC testing on Windows 7, just not when.
An RC is sent to a select group of testers and if they don't find any "showstopper" bugs in a specified length of time, it becomes the final code. If they do, the code is fixed and another RC is released. There is then a brief period of a up to several weeks between the final RC and release to manufacturing (RTM), when the product goes into formal production for sale.
The question is whether TechArp is right on the schedule. The site does have a growing track record of getting details and dates for many Microsoft products before almost anyone else.
Among TechArp's other revelations: Microsoft plans to RTM Internet Explorer 8 in March and Microsoft has set the cut off date for its "technical guarantee" program to January 31, 2010. The site had previously revealed that the time period within which users who buy new PCs with Vista installed will be able to upgrade to Windows 7 at low or no cost will begin July 1.
The report went on to say "If tests of the RC build proceeds [sic] according to plan, Microsoft is confident of launching Windows 7 before the December '09 holiday season. In short, we can expect Windows 7 to RTM by November or early December '09." That would be a seven to eight month gap between RC and RTM, which is unheard of for Microsoft.
Microsoft remains silent
Microsoft, meanwhile, is famous for its reticence to disclose details such as ship dates until it is absolutely positive it can meet them – though even there, it has had some equally-famous misses. Take, for instance, the repeated public delays Microsoft suffered with Windows Vista. In fact, the very public debacle with Vista had a hand in how little Microsoft has been willing to say out loud with Windows 7 – Vista's successor.
"We expect Windows 7 to ship approximately three years from the Windows Vista Consumer GA [general availability] launch," a spokesperson on Thursday.
By that worst case math, it would put public release of Windows 7 on or around late January 2010. Almost no experienced Microsoft observer believes it will be that late, though. Reports on the quality of the beta say the code is extremely stable, as well as faster and smaller than Vista.
"I think we'll see [commercial release of] Windows 7 this year," Richard Shim, research manager for IDC's PC team, He has been running the beta and attests that it's "very stable."
Indeed, reported in September that Microsoft was, at that time, slated to RTM Windows 7 on June 3. Follow up reporting has found that Windows 7 is apparently still on track for a June RTM.
If Microsoft does indeed begin RC testing in April, which appears more likely by the day, and RTMs in June, the next question is when is Windows 7 likely to be available for purchase?
"Typically, it takes at least a few months [to fill the channel], so June would make it available for the holiday sales period, but that's speculation on my part," IDC's Shim said.
Back-to-school sales in late summer seem more likely, he added. "That would be a little advanced [in time] but we're looking at shipments slowing down and that might get OEMs to move faster," said Shim.
In fact, some OEMs are looking to Windows 7 to help improve sales as the recession grinds on.