"I'm pleased to share that the RC (Release Candidate) is on track for April 30th," wrote Brandon LeBlanc, Microsoft's official in-house Windows blogger, in a post Friday. LeBlanc said Windows 7 would be available to Microsoft's MSDN and TechNet subscribers by month's end, and that a public version would be released on May 5.
"I would like to thank all of our beta testers for helping us get to this point," wrote LeBlanc, noting that the software maker was receiving user feedback messages every 15 seconds at one point during the beta period. "Since then, the engineering team has been busy analyzing the feedback, fixing bugs, and working hard to improve the overall experience," LeBlanc said.
"Many of your suggestions helped us refine the new and improved taskbar, the behavior of Aero Peek, Touch, Windows Media Player, and much more," he added.
Companies that want to begin testing their business applications for compatibility with Windows 7 won't have to wait much longer, either -- Microsoft plans to make its new operating system available for trial next month at its Tech Ed conference in Los Angeles.
The conference will feature a "Windows 7 'Bring Your Own Apps' Lab," according to Microsoft developer Yochay Kiriaty, who announced the program last week. Participants will be allowed up to 75 minutes of free time in Microsoft's on-site Windows 7 compatibility lab.
Microsoft's offer to test Windows 7 apps in a production environment as early as next month and its pending shipment of a release candidate are the latest signs that the company may be preparing to release a final version of the OS sometime this year.
If Microsoft is following a timetable similar to that employed for Vista development, then it's highly possible that the company is eyeing a September release date for Windows 7.
The first version of Windows Vista RC dropped in September 2006, about five months before the final version shipped. A similar five-month incubation period for Windows 7 RC would point to a commercial release in September -- possibly in time for the critical back-to-school shopping season.
Microsoft needs Windows 7 to be a hit. Vista, the company's current operating system, has failed to catch on with mainstream computer users, while businesses have shunned it outright. Many users have complained about Vista's hardware requirements, intrusive security measures, and lack of compatibility with older applications.
Microsoft last week reported that Windows sales fell 16% in the most recent quarter.