Microsoft on Wednesday said it has finalized the code for Windows 7, paving the way for the new operating system to make its way onto retail shelves and new PCs in time for its October 22 launch.
The software maker is hoping the response to the new operating system differs from the lukewarm reviews and compatibility challenges that marked the release of Windows Vista, which hit the market in January 2007. In contrast to Vista, Windows 7 has been marked by the company consistently hitting its deadlines and receiving largely positive feedback along the way.
"That is our final engineering milestone in what has been a three-year journey," said Mike Angiulo, general manager for planning in the Windows unit.
Windows 7 relies on the same underpinnings as Windows Vista, but adds a lot of features aimed at making the operating system both look and perform better.
Visually, it does a better job of managing open windows through an improved taskbar and a feature that lets users peek at one particular window or see the desktop that is hidden below all of the windows. On the performance side, it boots up and shuts down faster, and can run better on Netbooks and low-end machines.
Whereas Vista suffered several delays and saw its feature set change significantly in the years it was being developed and tested, Windows 7 looks very similar to the early developer preview version first shown at last October's professional developer conference.
"It feels great to be here on time," said Tami Reller, the Windows unit's chief financial officer, who recently added marketing responsibility for Windows as well.
Microsoft plans to offer Windows 7 in a number of different versions ranging from a low-end "starter edition" to an ultra-high-end "ultimate version." However, it expects most people in the U.S. and other developed markets to run either the Home Premium or Professional editions.
The company has been conservative in talking publicly about the product, waiting until features or dates were largely set in stone before discussing them widely.
Things were also fairly calm in the "shiproom"--the conference room inside Microsoft's Redmond headquarters where the Windows team meets to discuss outstanding bugs and issues before executives ultimately sign off on that the code is final.
With Vista--which was a more major update to Windows--it was a place of contentious debates up to the last minute about which issues needed to be fixed and which could be addressed later.
"When you are going through the end game, sometimes it is really bumpy; sometimes it is not," Angiulo said. "It's been really mellow this time."
Microsoft hasn't changed the code for Windows 7 since July 13, with much of the past 10 days spent just waiting to make sure long-term testing turned up no significant issues.
"After we produce a build, all the different teams will go through their test path," said Iain MacDonald, the general manager of the Windows Server unit. Microsoft also on Wednesday finalized the server version of Windows 7--a modest update known as Windows Server 2008 R2.
The actual build that Microsoft is using as the final one--build 7600.16385--has already leaked to the Web--several days ahead of Microsoft's confirmation that it was, in fact, the final version.
One of the last notable changes to Windows 7 was the incorporation of changes that were made to Windows as part of the last monthly "Patch Tuesday" bug fixes.
Angiulo said closer cooperation with computer makers, as well as the predictable schedule, has meant that a wide variety of new PCs should be ready to launch with Windows 7 in October.
"The (PC makers) have been working on a variety of systems--super-amazing thin and mobile systems," he said. "They are also working on really inexpensive low-end machines and all-in-ones.
Microsoft is also hoping, particularly since the underpinnings are similar to Vista, that users won't find the same sorts of compatibility issues that cropped up when that operating system first hit the market.
The entire PC ecosystem--from retailers like Best Buy to computer and hardware makers--are all hoping that Windows 7 can provide a boost to what has been a rough year.
"Our customers are very excited about Windows 7," Dell's Jim Ginger said. "We know because they tell us."
Update: Here's a video from Microsoft of the formal sign-off at Redmond.