Microsoft will release Windows 7 on October 22, the company has confirmed. The date will put Windows 7 on store shelves a full three months earlier than originally planned. It follows Microsoft's recent announcement that Windows 7 would ship "in time for the holidays" and matches rumors of a fall release spread around the Web in April.
Of course, there are still plenty of things that'll take place between now and October. Here's the breakdown of some key events and revelations leading up to the Windows 7 release.
Windows 7 Upgrade Option
Microsoft is expected to unveil an upgrade program for the Windows 7 release. The program will likely let you get Windows 7 for free or with a discount if you've recently bought a Vista-based PC that meets certain conditions.
So what are those conditions? That's not yet clear. Microsoft has confirmed the program will be called "Windows Upgrade Option." Early speculation suggests it may mirror the Vista Express Upgrade program, which provided free or discounted upgrades for users who'd bought XP-based systems in the months leading up to Vista's release. That program didn't exactly run smoothly, though: PC World expressed concern over hidden costs associated with the upgrade, and many consumers complained of delays and other issues in getting their upgrade requests processed.
Microsoft Corporate Vice President Steve Guggenheimer is set to deliver a keynote address at the Computex 2009 conference in Taipei on Wednesday. The address, entitled "Windows Makes Life Simpler," should provide additional details on how the Windows 7 upgrade program will operate.
Windows 7 Release-to-Manufacturing
Another step in the Windows 7 release process will be the transition into the release-to-manufacturing (RTM) phase of development. That's the final phase before the software becomes available to consumers, and -- as its name suggests -- entails Microsoft sending the Windows 7 code to PC manufacturers so they can start preparing new systems for the October 22 release.
Windows 7's RTM phase is expected to begin in late July or early August.
Windows 7 Compatibility Center
Microsoft's official Windows 7 Compatibility Center will launch in conjunction with the software itself, according to a FAQ posted on the site. The Compatibility Center will allow you to make sure your devices and applications will work with Windows 7 before making the upgrade.
Vista's Compatibility Center launched with a very different timeline: The service went online in July 2008, a full year-and-a-half after Vista's release. In an ironic twist, the Vista Compatibility Center also seemed to have some compatibility issues of its own -- the site was completely inaccessible to users during its first days online.
Don't take our word for it, though -- try Windows 7 out for yourself. The Windows 7 Release Candidate is still available for download as of now. Microsoft has said the functionality and features will remain relatively constant from that version to the final release.