Next Windows 7 Milestone: Release Candidate

How ready is Windows 7? Ready enough so there will be no Beta 2. Microsoft plans to go directly from Beta 1 to release candidate.

Can you say Windows is shipping sooner than later? Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president for the Windows and Windows Live Engineering Group, broke the news in a blog post time-stamped Midnight that popped up in my RSS feeds at noon. He writes:

The next milestone for the development of Windows 7 is the Release Candidate or “RC.” Historically the Release Candidate has signalled “we’re pretty close and we want people to start testing the release, especially because all the features are done.” As we have said before, with Windows 7 we chose a slightly different approach which we were clear up front about and are all now experiencing together and out in the open.

Anyone else remember when a Windows version went from beta directly to RC? I sure as hell don’t. Now contrast Steven’s statement to Microsoft BS in November 2005. The company suspended monthly Windows Vista CTPs (Community Technology Previews) after just two releases. The ridiculous assertion: that Vista development was running ahead of schedule. A few months later, Microsoft delayed Vista’s launch, missing Christmas PC sales.

Now this is running ahead of schedule. The move from beta to RC, just the announcement of it, shows Microsoft’s confidence in Seven where it is. Microsoft also is putting its partner ecosystem on notice. Get ready, Seven is coming soon. Something else: Today’s blog offers tacit advice to customers to begin Seven testing now, rather than upgrade from Windows XP to Vista. Steven won’t directly say this; no sane Microsoft executive would say something to freeze Windows PC sales. But the schedule timing should be clear enough to IT organisations planning to buy new PCs with Vista rather than Windows 7.

In his blog post, Steven discusses some of the beta process, of collecting feedback and Microsoft’s response, particularly with respect to compatibility. He writes:

The path to release candidate is all about getting the product to a known and shippable state both from an internal and external (beta usage and partner ecosystem readiness) standpoint. We will then provide the release candidate as a refresh for the Beta. We expect, based on our experience with the Beta, a broad set of folks to be pretty interested in trying it out.

Yeah, that has got to be an understatement. Steven continues:

With the RC, this process of feedback based on telemetry then repeats itself. However at this milestone we will be very selective about what changes we make between the Release Candidate and the final product, and very clear in communicating them. We will act on the most critical issues. The point of the release candidate is to make sure everyone is ready for the release and that there is time between the release candidate and our release to PC makers and manufacturing to validate all the work that has gone on since the pre-Beta. Again, we expect very few changes to the code. We often “joke” that this is the point of lowest productivity for the development team because we all come to work focused on the product but we write almost no code.

So there’s no misunderstanding, Steven is saying that Windows 7 development already is winding down and that not only does Microsoft plan no Beta 2 but no Release Candidate 2, either. This kind of communication is risky, unless there’s a high level of confidence to back it up. “This release will be Windows 7 as we intend to ship it,” Steven writes about the RC.

It’s also clear from the post how serious Microsoft is about compatibility and its partners getting compatible drivers out there during the Beta 1 process. Incompatibility was one of Windows Vista’s shameful hallmarks, and the driver ecosystem was out of step with—as in behind—the operating system release. Steven writes, as example of compatibility updates:

Many GPU chipsets are being recognised and Windows 7 downloads the updated WDDM 1.1 drivers. While the Windows Vista drivers work as expected, the new 1.1 drivers provide enhanced performance and a reduced memory footprint, which can make a big difference on 1GB shared memory machines.

Uh-oh. I downloaded the WDDM 1.1 driver and got a big surprise. My graphics resolution maxed out at 1,024 by 768, when native resolution should be 1,600 by 900. Whoops. I had to change back to the older driver. By the way, I expected the driver switch to be a real hassle, requiring an earlier System Restore point to fix the resolution. Instead, the driver fix was totally hassle-free, which was a welcome surprise.

I’m running Windows 7 on my personal laptop: Sony VAIO VGN-Z590, with 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, a 13.1-inch LED backlit display with 1,600-by-900 resolution, 256MB nVidia GeForce 9300M GS graphics, 3GB of DDR3 memory, a 320GB hard drive (5,400 rpm), a dual-layer DVD burner, a fingerprint reader, Wi-Fi and a Sprint 3G modem. I have the 32-bit version of Windows 7 because the computer shipped with 32-bit Windows Vista.

The timing of Steven’s blog is eerily coincidental. Two years ago today, Microsoft made Windows Vista generally available. There’s an appropriateness to laying out Seven’s release schedule on the second anniversary of its much-maligned predecessor. Microsoft is so over Windows Vista. Maybe you should be, too. Seven is moving remarkably fast to release.

It’s now quite safe to speculate that Seven will release to manufacturing before 30th June, the end of Microsoft’s fiscal year. If Microsoft can make the 30th April, OEMs will have time to get new Windows 7 PCs on store shelves for the back-to-school season. Microsoft partners couldn’t ask for much better than that.