Windows 7 by the Holidays: Here is Microsoft's Game Plan

Windows 7 will be here by the holidays, Microsoft has revealed. The company officially announced the operating system would become available "in time for the holiday shopping season" on Monday, making reports of an October Windows 7 release appear all the more reliable.

The date may only be months away, but for Microsoft engineers, the work is far from finished. Here's a look at what'll happen behind-the-scenes between now and the release date, and what could still change within the Windows 7 software.

The Windows 7 Game Plan

Windows 7 is currently available for download as a public release candidate. Its next step is transitioning into release-to-manufacturing (RTM) mode. That's the final phase before the software will become generally available for customer purchase.

So, what's that really mean? Basically, the Microsoft team will now spend its time looking for serious flaws or compatibility issues. The look and feel of the software itself, though, isn't likely to shift any further.

"We will not be changing the functionality or features of the product at this point," explains Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president of Microsoft's Windows Engineering Group. "That’s the sort of thing we’ll save for a future release."

That doesn't mean everything will necessarily stay stable. Key areas that could lead to code changes include issues within installation, security, stability, device compatibility, and software installation. Updated builds are being released daily as such tweaks are made.

"We have a lot of engineers changing a very little bit of code," Sinofsky says. "We’re being very deliberate with every change we make."

What's Still in the Works

Some aspects of Windows 7 are still under general development, too: Multilanguage support is currently being programmed, and supporting materials -- a new Windows Web site and updated resource kits, for example -- are also being created.

One area just being tested this week is Windows 7's integrated update system. Microsoft is planning to send out blank updates to Windows 7 RC users starting this Tuesday. The empty updates, Microsoft blogger Brandon LeBlanc explains, will be used to "verify [Microsoft's] ability to deliver and manage updating of Windows 7 in certain real-life scenarios."

Windows 7: What Now?

The Windows 7 RTM process is expected to start wrapping up by mid-August. As for the final release date, Microsoft is holding off on getting any more specific than "the holiday season" thus far.

In the meantime, you can see if your computer is Windows 7-ready, perhaps check out the release candidate for yourself, and check out some of PC World's other recent Windows 7 coverage:

• "Windows 7 RC Adds New Remote Media Streaming, Virtual Windows XP Mode"

• "Speed Test: Windows 7 May Not Be Much Faster Than Vista"

• "Is Jumping from XP to Windows 7 too Complicated?"

• "Microsoft Mum on Vista Plans After Windows 7 Launch"

Connect with JR Raphael on Twitter (@jr_raphael) or via his Web site, jrstart.com.

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