Now that the premature leak of Microsoft's Windows 7 beta is over, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made the operating system officially available Wednesday -- but the release has a hitch. Ballmer announced at the Consumer Electronics Show that Microsoft was making the beta available immediately to MSDN, TechNet and TechBeta subscribers and to the rest of the world on Friday.
"Windows has become the language that over a billion people speak at every country and culture around the world," Ballmer said during his CES keynote speech. "I believe Windows will remain at the center of people's technology solar system."
Vista, the company's most recent operating system, has received a lot of negative feedback since its release and has been the target of many of Apple's commercials poking fun at the OS. Microsoft is serious about Windows 7 and Ballmer said the company is on track to deliver the best version of Windows ever.
"We are putting in all the right ingredients -- simplicity, reliability and speed -- and working hard to get it right and get it ready," Ballmer told the audience.
Keys Don't Work
But did Ballmer forget to add product keys to those ingredients? Just one day after Microsoft released the beta there were problems. Users are reporting no problems with the download, but say they are receiving errors with product keys.
"We can confirm that we are having trouble distributing Windows 7 beta product keys right now," Microsoft posted on its Web site. "Since Windows has a grace period built in before a product key is required, please don't hesitate to download and use the beta without the product key. We will post information here as soon as this is solved."
Windows 7 beta includes a cleaner interface, according to the company, which will allow customers to click through faster in order to get to files and applications. The taskbar and start menu have been improved, it boots up faster, shows fewer pop-ups, and extends battery life, according to Microsoft.
Microsoft said it's on top of what users want and is well aware that people are taking advantage of their PCs to do more than surf the Internet and write documents.
With that in mind, Microsoft said it has made numerous enhancements to Windows Media Center in Windows 7 beta. Windows Media Center will support new ways to use a PC, including touch gestures to navigate menus, guides and galleries.
The company has also built features into Windows 7 beta to allow users to play more media content and sync it to more devices.
Plumbing and Polishing
There are two kinds of Windows releases, according to analysts at Connecticut-based research firm Gartner. There are the polished releases, and then there are the plumbing releases.
Windows Vista was a plumbing release that included major changes to the Windows architecture. Windows 7, however, is a polishing release aimed at fixing the glitches that gave Vista a bad name.
Windows 7 should not be a reason to skip Windows Vista, according to Gartner analyst Michael Silver, who said Windows 7 will improve usability over Vista, but organizations should still hang on to plans to deploy Vista. Features of Windows 7 target personalized experience, improved access to information, and improvements in device handling, he said, but it will not improve compatibility over current Vista versions.
"Minor glitches would be expected on a product like this, so problems with keys on day 1 is not a big deal," he said. "While we don't see Windows 7 as a revolutionary change from Windows Vista, it has some new user interface and other features that people are finding intriguing," Silver added. "So far, performance seems good; better than Windows Vista on similar hardware."
"Our general advice has not changed (since October)," Silver said. "Windows 7 won't be out for a while (though probably this year) and even then most companies will still need another 12 to 18 months to wait for ISV support, test and pilot Windows 7 internally, and be ready for a broad deployment, bringing us to the first half of 2011."