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Microsoft's Tech Ed conference will feature a production environment where users can test business software on the new OS.
Companies that want to start testing their business applications for compatibility with Windows 7 won't have to wait much longer -- 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 in a blog post this week.
"This lab will allow you to test your applications for compatibility with Windows 7 and will be offered free of charge," wrote Kiriaty. "This is an amazing opportunity to test your applications on Windows 7 and work with Microsoft engineers on specific Windows 7 compatibility issues."
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 is the latest sign that the company may be preparing to release a final version of the OS sometime this year.
A memo appeared briefly in early April on Microsoft's TechNet Web site revealing that the company is eyeing May for the release of Windows 7 Release Candidate.
The memo noted that Windows 7 RC will be available through June and that Microsoft plans to make an unlimited number of download keys available to users who want to kick the tires on the operating system and provide feedback.
If Microsoft is following a timetable similar to that employed for Vista development, then it's highly possible that the company is considering 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 OS, 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 on Thursday reported that Windows sales fell 16% in the most recent quarter.
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