Windows 7 screen shot
|(Click for larger image and for full photo gallery)|
The company says it will end availability of Windows 7 Beta on Feb. 10.
There are a couple of loopholes, however. Users who started to download the OS before that date will have until Feb. 12 to complete the process. Also, Microsoft will continue to distribute product keys beyond Feb. 12 to users who have previously downloaded Windows 7 Beta but have yet to obtain a key.
"We are at a point where we have more than enough beta testers and feedback coming in to meet our engineering needs, so we are beginning to plan the end of general availability for Windows 7 Beta," said Brandon LeBlanc, Microsoft's in-house Windows blogger, in a post Friday.
Microsoft will post warnings on its Web site that the download program for Windows 7 is about to end starting Tuesday. A final version of Windows 7, Microsoft's follow-up to Windows Vista, is expected to be available in late 2009 or early 2010.
Perhaps due to Vista's unpopularity, computer users have been downloading Windows 7 Beta in droves. Microsoft dropped limits on the number of available copies of the software after a crush of download requests for the new operating system brought the company's servers to a halt during the first weekend of availability earlier this month.
Windows 7 offers numerous new features, including native support for touch-screen interfaces and more than 20 hotkey combinations designed to simplify use.
Microsoft needs Windows 7 to be a hit. Vista has failed to catch on with mainstream computer users and businesses have shunned it outright. Many users have complained about Vista's hardware requirements, intrusive security measures, and lack of compatibility with older applications.
Dissatisfaction with Vista has allowed Apple to gain share against Microsoft in the computer operating system market in recent months. Windows' market share in November fell below 90% for the first time in years while Mac OS is now flirting with the 10% mark, according to market watcher Net Applications.
It's all taking a toll on Microsoft's bottom line. Last week, the company said second quarter profits tumbled 11%. It also announced a restructuring plan that will see it lay off 5,000 full-time employees and an additional 5,000 contract workers.