Microsoft will make the first public beta of Windows 7, the next version of its desktop operating system, available as a free download on Friday. There are several limitations, however, so even if you’re excited and committed to trying out Windows 7 Beta 1 on your home PC, check out this list of rules, requirements and considerations.
We culled this list from a post on the official Windows blog and its comments, so check it out before taking the plunge:
- Windows 7 Beta 1 will be made available for a limited time during the day on January 9, 2009.
- Visit the Windows 7 page on Microsoft’s website for the link.
- It will only be made available to the first 2.5 million people to download the code. Demand will be huge, so prepare to act quickly.
- Microsoft has not announced a specific time on Friday for the release, but we can expect it will be later in the day so the west coast of North America isn’t left out.
- Windows 7 Beta 1 will be offered as an ISO image. It’s around 2.5 or 3 gigabytes, so you will need a DVD burner if you want to install it.
- You will be required to register before downloading so Microsoft can give you a product key.
- It will be build 7000.
- The beta will only support Windows Vista SP1 to Windows 7 upgrades. If you’re not running Vista SP1 right now, upgrade before you try to install the Windows 7 beta.
- There is also a clean install option for the Win7 beta.
- There is no upgrade path from XP.
- There’s only one version of the beta, which Microsoft says “is roughly equivalent the Ultimate edition of Windows Vista.”
- The Windows 7 Beta will expire on August 1. You will probably be forced to go back to using Vista SP1 on August 1 (or maybe upgrade to Win7 Beta 2?).
- English, German, Japanese, Arabic, and Hindi versions will be available Friday.
- Both 32-bit and 64-bit versions will be available (except for Hindi, which only gets a 32-bit version).
- If you’re upgrading, remember to back up your PC. It’s a beta, stupid!
If you miss out, there will be other ways to get the beta in the near future. It’s likely Microsoft will be handing out hard DVDs of the code at developer events and consumer conferences throughout the year. And of course, (cough) there’s always BitTorrent.
This is definitely not what Microsoft had in mind when it launched its recent $300mm ad campaign. In what can only be described as a coup for distributors, Microsoft has given in to the pressure and extended XP’s stay of execution. Redmond has indeed confirmed that January 31, 2009 is no longer the end of the road for XP PC sales. Instead, January 31 is now the final date on which distributors can place orders for Windows XP OEM licenses and orders can be filled through May 30 of next year. For you, the end user, this means that Vista will not be your only Windows OS option for new PC purchases in the coming year as XP-powered PCs will be available for many months to come. This is no doubt viewed as a major check in the loss column within Microsoft – the company has been pushing Vista in full force lately in the hopes that it might reverse the negative connotations carried forth by Apple’s marketing and the bad tastes left behind from a bumpy launch. On the bright side of things, Microsoft can likely look forward to some massive XP license orders in early Q1 2009 that will help get its calendar year off to a flying start. Sure this likely isn’t Microsoft’s optimal situation but hey, in this day and age beggars can’t be choosers.
Microsoft has released Windows XP SP3 to manufacturers, which means it should start making its way to OEM and enterprise customers. What that means for you the consumer is that pretty soon you’ll be able to purchase computers running Windows XP SP3 instead of SP2. That is, if Microsoft lets companies continue selling machines running Windows XP after the original June cutoff date.
As expected, the final version of Windows XP SP3 will also be available to existing customers through Windows Update on April 29th. The company will also update all of its Windows XP online documentation at that point.
If you can’t wait that long, you can go ahead and download the latest release candidate of SP3, which has been available for almost a month now. We’ve been running it for a while now and it seems pretty stable.
ANALYSIS Certainly Microsoft wants to avoid another debacle on the scale of Windows Me, an operating system release that tilted more toward a mistake than an upgrade, and whose publicity turned into pushback from both customers and the press.
However, two analysts from Gartner certainly didn’t help Vista much with their comments earlier this week. At an Emerging Trends conference in Las Vegas, Michael Silver and Neil MacDonald argued that Microsoft is collapsing under its own weight, and that Windows has become monolithic.
Central to their point was the fact that Microsoft is leery to cut the cord, so to speak, on more than two decades of applications. Backwards compatibility remains something of an expectation with each new Windows release.
At the same time, this support for the past has gotten them into trouble. “Security should have been enough of a reason for Microsoft to stop bringing these applications forward,” Directions on Microsoft analyst Michael Cherry told BetaNews.
As MacDonald and Silver argued, the ballooning hardware requirements attached to Microsoft’s recent releases — especially Vista — have some of its clients wondering if it’s just more worthwhile to stick with their current setups and wait for the next version of Windows.
“I found [their analysis] very interesting,” Cherry said of the Gartner pair. “Look at all the hardware requirements [Microsoft] has gotten into.”
The reasoning behind the leeriness over Vista in the enterprise is this: Evidence suggests that Windows 7 would be more modular, and as a result, a lot less hardware requirement-heavy.
Many groups — Gartner included — have now seemingly begun to advise clients that a Vista could be more than just a software upgrade: It could mean these folks could be buying new hardware too.
While this is certainly something the computer manufacturers would not mind at all, it’s a sticking point for corporations. Faced with buying new machines, they would much rather just stick with XP, which for many is working out just fine.
Thus, in the case of Gartner — which, by the way, had been urging its clients to upgrade as soon as possible after Vista launched in 2007 — movement to Vista is now only being suggested as old and dying computers are being phased out. Only then, the firm believes, should Vista be introduced.
Could this movement of both sentiment and support away from Vista be the catalyst for recent suggestions that Windows 7 should launch sooner than the oft-publicized early 2010 target date?
It could be the most logical reason suggested thus far. Microsoft’s customers appear ready to pass over Vista, and the company could be taking notice. If it cannot get its customers to bite on the latest Windows release, maybe it can on the next.
Blogger and Microsoft pundit Mary Jo Foley has suggested that the renewed Windows 7 speculation may be more due to a desire by computer manufacturers to have new software, and the new marketing support that comes with it, ready for the generally lucrative holiday shopping season. But a still more higher-level reason could be at work.
Cherry disagrees with the whole premise of “promising” releases by a certain date, saying it only leads to trouble. “Microsoft shouldn’t be promising when it will be done,” he told BetaNews. Such promises have already gotten the company into trouble with Vista at the very beginning, he said, as it was more than two years past its initial promised date.
Plus, he said, since Vista was billed as a major release, Microsoft shouldn’t be following it up with another major release so soon. “A major/minor release pattern is good,” he added.
Gartner seems to be suggesting such a resolution to Microsoft’s conundrum. It calls for radical change, something consultant Stowe Boyd of /Message seems to agree with. Boyd doesn’t hold much hope for it, however.
“I just doubt that Microsoft has the resolve to build a new OS, breaking the tie to Windows, which is really what is needed,” Boyd told us. “In the meantime, anticipate an increasing defection to Mac OS X and Linux.”
The question still remains, is Vista really collapsing? Perhaps not. It could be argued that Microsoft has just failed to develop the OS’ value proposition enough. With the early problems, such as a definitive lack of supporting drivers and its technical difficulties early on — not to mention the whole “Vista Capable” debacle — that job has been made much harder.
Some will argue that the security enhancements included within Vista are reason enough to make the jump. Several have argued that these enhancements resolve one of the key problems within Windows overall in recent memory: its seemingly neverending list of security problems.
In fact, Cherry told BetaNews that when he first started urging his clients to upgrade, User Account Control (although annoying at times) was a major factor. Not allowing everything to run under administrative privileges closes a great deal of those holes.
He still stands by his support, even though like Gartner, he is also now advising a hardware upgrade path to Vista adoption.
But some of these much needed changes have come at a cost. While the marketing of Vista calls it “agile,” most likely many don’t perceive it as such when a UAC dialog seems to appear on their screen every few minutes.
It is with Windows’ treatment of the “standard user” with UAC that Microsoft may need to improve most for Windows 7. Take out these perceived shortcomings, and things could get back on track.
“I don’t envision Windows 7 is going to be drastic,” Cherry said. “Although the first clue as to whether it will be a major release is PDC.”
Cherry’s referring to the company’s next Professional Developer’s Conference, currently scheduled for late October. Quite possibly at that point we will find out what Redmond’s next steps will be, and whether Vista is indeed the lame duck that some have made it out to be.
Windows Vista won’t be available until early next year, but current XP users drooling over Vista’s new Aero theme and utilities, such as sidebars and widgets, don’t have to wait for Microsoft to ship out its new operating system to upgrade their desktops. There’s a whole community of software developers and Windows-customization enthusiasts creating desktop themes and utilities that can give Windows XP a great-looking user interface filled with powerful tools.
You’ll still have to wait for the official Vista release to get core features such as DirectX 10, improved security, and the rebuilt network stack, but there’s nothing stopping you from upgrading your XP user interface today. The Aero theme in Windows Vista updates the desktop look and feel with softer edges and translucent windows.
There are several downloads that can help you achieve the Aero look on XP. Some packages, such as Vista Transformation Pack 4.0, are free downloads put together by dedicated users, but you can also buy programs created by established software developers, such as Stardock’s WindowBlinds, if you want a polished package with support.
Stardock offers an entire Object Desktop software package that lets you design and build your own desktop or install a complete design created by others. The entire suite runs for $50, but you only need the WindowBlinds component to personalize your desktop UI with specially designed skins.
The 60-day trial version doesn’t come with the Vista-inspired theme preinstalled, but we found several impressive user-created themes at WinCustomize.com. The skins we tried did a great job on the window-frame transparencies, along with the start menu and taskbar designs. However, you’ll need to get a separate icon pack to get high-resolution icons.
You can give Vista Transformation Pack 4.0 a shot if you don’t want to shell out the $20 for WindowBlinds. The free download adds transparent windows, updates the taskbar, and even installs a new clock.
The transparencies worked, but we found the see-through quality extended throughout the entire window body instead of just around the frames. Reading a Web page can be difficult if you can see text from the window below mixing with text in the active Web browser. Increasing opacity levels helped make window contents more readable but sort of defeats the purpose of installing the transformation pack in the first place.
Sidebars and Gadgets
Windows Vista will feature Windows Sidebar. The sidebar is a vertical panel located on one side of the screen and is designed to host desktop gadgets, which are pocket-sized applications such as clocks, picture frames, calculators, and RSS displays. The sidebar application will also allow gadgets to float anywhere on the desktop.
Right now you can drag your Windows XP system taskbar to the left or right side of the screen to create a poor man’s sidebar, but it still won’t give you any cool gadgets to run. To add gadget functionality, you can download free programs such as Desktop Sidebar, Yahoo Widget Engine, or Google Desktop.
All three programs have a decent selection of desktop gadgets, including weather monitors, calendars, e-mail monitors, stock tickers, and even games such as sudoku. Desktop Sidebar and Google Desktop let you dock gadgets in the sidebar or pull them out to have them float on the desktop. Yahoo Widget Engine isn’t a sidebar since all the widgets are free-floaters, but you can stack various widget applications to mimic a sidebar if you can’t resist the need to force order upon your desktop.
Windows Vista isn’t the only OS that has neat GUI features worth stealing. Apple’s Mac OSX already offers widgets in its Dashboard application, and it also has a great-looking docking utility for programs and files. Check out Stardock’s ObjectDock if you want to get an OSX-like dock on your XP machine.
Keep in mind that all of these applications will use up precious memory. If you’re coasting by with 512MB of memory, consider upgrading to 1GB or more to give your applications more room to breathe. Upgrading up to 1GB of memory will also prepare your system for the official Vista release. The new system requirements are mighty hefty.
It’s impossible to re-create the entire Windows Vista experience on XP, but with the right UI modification and a good gadget tool, you should be able to hold out until Microsoft releases Windows Vista early next year. Check out GameSpot’s Windows Vista Hands-On Experience feature to find out more about Microsoft’s upcoming OS.
Vista Start menu Emulator was developed for people who will continue to use Windows XP but would like the Vista start menu.
For those that plan to upgrade to Windows Vista, CNET offers up the Vista Readiness Advisor to check your computer’s current ability to run the new features in Vista.
In you haven’t had enough Xbox 360 (let alone Wii and PlayStation 3) news lately, we’ve got one more tidbit for you. While we knew the device would sport USB connectivity, the recently released (and unboxed) HD DVD add-on drive has reportedly already been hacked to function on plain ole PCs, no Xbox 360 necessary. Utilizing Toshiba drivers, users have apparently been able to not only view the file contents of their HD DVD flicks directly within a Windows XP environment, but have been able to play back the film on PCs well-spec’d enough to handle the load. By enabling the computer to read the UDF (Universal Disc File system) v2.5 — which is currently used by Toshiba’s first generation HD DVD drives — you can avoid throwing down the coin required for an Xbox 360 if you so choose. But as these roundabouts always go, we wouldn’t count on things working out so smoothly for too much longer, especially with HDCP always lurking and waiting to pounce.