"Attend an upcoming MSDN Developer Conference and you will receive a Windows 7 Beta 1 DVD," Microsoft said on a site it maintains for software developers. The next such conference is Tuesday in Chicago, according to the site, with other conferences scheduled for cities across the country throughout January.
The site promises that developers who attend one of the conferences will be "among the first to see Windows 7." It also states that attendees will receive preview access to Windows Azure, an operating system that Microsoft is developing for cloud computing environments.
For those who can't wait, an early build of a Windows 7 beta has appeared on numerous, legally questionable, file sharing sites. "I'm using this OS as I type," wrote a Pirate Bay user going by the name 'al966g'. "Looks like it's OK to me, not too much different than Vista but a few new items," the user wrote.
The user noted that he had Windows 7 running on a relatively underpowered Pentium 4 computer with only 768 MB of RAM. Vista, by contrast, was widely criticized for steep hardware requirements that forced users to upgrade their PCs.
A final version of Windows 7 isn't expected until late 2009 or early 2010.
Last month, Intel released a preproduction version of Windows 7 drivers for graphics chipsets. The WDDM1.1 graphics driver is designed for "enabling the full Windows 7 experience," Intel said, noting that the driver is the result of ongoing collaboration with Microsoft.
Microsoft for the first time unveiled Windows 7 features at its Los Angeles Professional Developers Conference in October and appears anxious to release the OS as soon as possible. The company has formally said that Windows 7 won't ship until early 2010, but the January release of a beta disk is the latest sign that Windows 7 could debut in late 2009.
Microsoft is hoping Windows 7, which includes native support for touch screens, will help erase memories of Vista, which has been a disappointment for the company.