Microsoft said Monday it expects to have a public beta by July for the first service pack update to Windows 7.
The announcement came at the start of Microsoft's TechEd conference, being held this week in New Orleans.
Although the, the release of the first service pack of an operating system has historically been a symbolic indication to businesses that the software is ready for mass consumption. In recent years, though, Microsoft has issued many of the updates that are part of a service pack ahead of that release and the company has encouraged businesses not to wait for the first service pack to deploy a particular piece of software. That's especially true with the Windows 7 update, which consists almost entirely of already released bug fixes.
"While the new features for Windows Server 2008 R2 benefit Windows 7 by providing a richer [virtual desktop] experience, SP1 will not contain any new features that are specific to Windows 7 itself," Microsoft's Gavriella Schuster said in a blog post. "For Windows 7, SP1 will simply be the combination of updates already available through Windows Update and additional hotfixes based on feedback by our customers and partners. In other words, customers can feel confident about deploying Windows 7 now."
Microsoft also plans to release a service pack for its latest server operating system,, in July. Microsoft did not give a date of when to expect the final version of the service packs.
On the Bing front, Microsoft said that developers will be able to build new applications built on top of Bing Maps and that those applications will be able hostable on Bing.com.
Microsoft also announced updates to its cloud-based Windows Azure operating system, adding support for the latest versions of Visual Studio and the .Net Framework, and to the SQL Azure cloud database, adding spatial data support and access to up to 50GB of capacity.
The software maker also showed more features of the next version of its communications server. Communications Server "14," as the product is code-named, will allow for sharing of office documents and applications, as well as single-click meeting access from Outlook, SharePoint, and phones. Finally. Microsoft said it is ready with a test version of the first service pack for Exchange 2010.
Update, 8:45 a.m. PT: The day 1 keynote from TechEd has wrapped up. Among the demos was Gurdeep Singh Pall showing high-definition videoconferencing using Communications Server 14. The new software will support 720p video. Today's computers typically have VGA cameras built-in, but add-on HD Webcams can be had for as little as $50.
"We do expect, in the not too distant future, to see HD cameras being built into laptops," Server and Tools unit president Bob Muglia said.
The demo of sharing an office document, in this case a PowerPoint, lagged considerably, so Pall quickly switched to demoing a virtual whiteboard feature instead.
"The whiteboard is just a click away from me," Singh Pall said, covering nicely.
Muglia talked about all the investments Microsoft is making in various cloud services, but stressed that the PC and server businesses are doing quite well, noting the strength of the PC market and the fact that most businesses are planning moves to Windows 7.
"The PC is alive and well," Muglia said.
Microsoft also showed a video with filmmaker James Cameron talking about the Gaia asset management system that Microsoft helped develop for Cameron's 3D blockbuster, "Avatar." Inat last week's D: All Things Digital conference, Cameron mentioned the work that Microsoft did .
I'll be chatting with Muglia later today, so if you have questions, send them my way (ina dot fried at cnet dot com).