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Time for Microsoft to fess up on Windows 7 date

Redmond made the release candidate publicly available Tuesday, but it still won't commit to a 2009 launch--even though it's tipped its hand that way.

With the release candidate for Windows 7 now publicly available, it's entirely reasonable for businesses and consumers to want to know when the final release will be available.

Reasonable maybe, but Microsoft still won't even confirm whether the release of Windows 7 is targeted for this year or early next year.

Click here for a gallery of Windows 7 release candidate screenshots. ZDNet Australia

"We have work to do before we can definitively say it's a holiday product," corporate VP Mike Nash said in an interview last week.

The official word on timing--which came in an interview with CNET News nearly a year ago--is that Microsoft plans to release Windows 7 within three years of the January 2007 mainstream launch of Windows Vista. And the company has refused to budge from that formal stance.

Of course, every indication is that Microsoft plans for Windows 7 to be widely available on PCs this holiday season. As far back as last year, Microsoft tipped its hand that it was headed that way.

Bill Gates said at a speech in Miami in April 2008 that Windows 7 was coming "in the next year or so." When it released the first public code last fall, Microsoft was careful not to reveal much about timing, although one session at a November hardware conference confirmed for me that Microsoft was aiming for a 2009 launch.

Sources have consistently said that a 2009 launch has been Microsoft's goal and even some Microsoft folks have suggested as much. In an interview with Bloomberg News last month, Microsoft senior vice president Bill Veghte said that a holiday launch was "accomplishable."

Last week, Acer even offered up a date--Oct. 23--when it would have a Windows 7 PC on the market.

Microsoft is asking people to treat the release candidate like a final release and make sure that they are nearly done with their own testing. Shouldn't that mean that the ecosystem also gets to know how much time they have before the product is finalized?

Of course, Microsoft has been telling its largest partners what to expect for some time. Big computer makers have said that, in contrast with the process around Windows Vista, they feel both listened to and in the loop. But what about the rest of us?

Plenty of consumers and small businesses are trying to make buying decisions and even a few months difference in timing can be a big deal.

In its blog posting announcing the release candidate's availability, Microsoft said when the test code would expire, but again refused to say when it will actually become obsolete.

Clearly Microsoft was burned by its experience with Vista, but at this point not admitting a 2009 goal is silly. We all know that is the target. If for some reason they do encounter a delay, it will still be a delay, even if Microsoft never actually told us what its plans were.