Microsoft still hasn't officially announced that Windows 7 has been "released to manufacturing" (RTM) for production and packaging in preparation for its October 22 release to consumers. But the company did share more fascinating details yesterday on its pending RTM schedule on the Windows 7 Team Blog.
The company said it's still right on target to deliver the RTM as promised in the second half of this month. Well, that's got to mean we're pretty darn close -- today is July 22, leaving only nine more days this month for RTM to happen. Let the guesswork begin!
Meanwhile, while Microsoft is picking a date for RTM, let's look at what it will mean for you every step of the way.
*For beta testers and other enthusiasts: The biggest news so far is Microsoft's confirmation that they will indeed offer a "family pack" for Windows 7, which will be a specially-priced copy that can legally be installed on up to three PCs.
That's great news for all of us who maintain multiple PCs and want to be able to afford to move them all to Windows 7 without having to take out a second mortgage. "We have heard a lot of feedback from beta testers and enthusiasts over the last 3 years that we need a better solution for homes with multiple PCs," wrote Microsoft's Windows Communications Manager Brandon LeBlanc in the blog post. "I'm happy to confirm that we will indeed be offering a family pack of Windows 7 Home Premium (in select markets) which will allow installation on up to 3 PCs. As I've said before, stay tuned to our blog for more information on this and any other potential offers."
Also notable for beta testers and enthusiasts: Following the move to RTM, Microsoft will be releasing an evaluation of Windows 7 Professional for IT Professionals via its TechNet Springboard Series, LeBlanc wrote. "Over 40 percent of beta testers are IT Professionals and this will allow them to quickly access the RTM code and plan for deployments," he said. That should provide lots of needed information that can be used to evaluate and plan the move for corporate users.
Beta testers won't automatically get a free copy of Windows 7, LeBlanc reiterated, but will be able to continue to use their Release Candidate test versions through its expiration on June 1, 2010. Microsoft TechNet subscribers will be able to download and install the RTM version when it is ready, LeBlanc said.
*For general consumers, there are no other major new details to report today, except for the good news about the pending family pack: Windows 7 will be available for sale starting October 22 in retail stores and on new PCs, according to Microsoft.
*For partners and OEMs: Windows 7 RTM downloads will be available to Independent Software Vendors (ISV) and Independent Hardware Vendor (IHV) partners starting on Aug. 6 from Microsoft Connect or MSDN, the blog said. "If you are a partner who has been working on Windows 7 for a while, now is the time to complete your testing with final version of Windows 7," LeBlanc wrote. "For partners that haven't gotten started yet with Windows 7, now is the time to get involved. You can also visit www.readyset7.com to learn more about getting ready for Windows 7."
Downloads in English will be available starting August 16 for Microsoft Partner Program Gold/Certified Members through the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) Portal, LeBlanc wrote. Other language versions will be ready by October 1.
"OEMs will receive Windows 7 RTM software images beginning approximately 2 days after we officially RTM, as a little time is required to release and distribute these images," LeBlanc wrote. "This will allow them to begin preparing images for new PCs to ship with Windows 7 on them. We know our OEMs are excited for Windows 7 and we can't wait to hand them the final RTM bits!"
*For business customers: Downloads of Windows 7 RTM in English will be available starting August 7 if you are a Volume License (VL) customer with an existing Software Assurance (SA) license, according to Microsoft. Other languages will be available later using the same Volume License Service Center (VLSC) portal for downloads. Volume License customers who don't have an SA license will have to wait until September 1 to purchase Windows 7 through Volume Licensing.
*For IT professionals: If you have a TechNet subscription, you'll be able to download Windows 7 RTM in English starting August 6, with other languages available by October 1. The Microsoft Springboard Series Web pages provide lots more information to help with successful deployments and with finding answers to problems, the company said.
*For developers: If you have an MSDN subscription, you'll be able to download Windows 7 RTM in English starting August 6, with other languages available by October 1. Several helpful information resources are being touted by Microsoft to help you with application development for Windows 7, including the Windows 7 for Developers Blog, the Windows 7 Developers Guide on MSDN and a series of helpful videos on Channel 9.
We'll get you more details as soon as we have them. We know you're excited.
Soon you'll be able to say "hasta la vista" to Vista!
(Todd R. Weiss is a freelance technology journalist who formerly wrote for Computerworld.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TechManTalking)