A pre-release version of Windows 7--build 7000, which is widely expected to be released soon by Microsoft as the Windows 7 Beta--leaked online late last week. The software giant has officially provided this build only to its closest partners, but the company is expected to deliver the Windows 7 Beta to technical beta testers in the days ahead and then to the public by mid-January.
I've been using the Windows 7 Beta build since last week and have written a lengthy review and provided over 50 screenshots of this eagerly awaited release on the SuperSite for Windows (links below). But in keeping with Microsoft's new design mantra, little has changed in the product since Microsoft announced most of Windows 7's features back in October. The company previously stated that the Windows 7 Beta would be "feature complete."
In use, the Windows 7 Beta is very similar to Windows Vista but offers better performance, enhanced functionality, and a pared-down, simpler user interface. Microsoft has paid particular attention to the Windows UI in this release, and appears to have tweaked virtually every aspect of the interface. Compatibility with existing hardware and software is excellent, as is performance. Stability is mostly excellent, too, though individual applications--notably Word 2007--freeze up in the Windows 7 Beta far more often than is the case with Windows Vista.
Following the public release of the Windows 7 Beta, Microsoft is expected to ship a single release candidate (RC) of the system and then deliver the final version of the product. Based on the quality of the Beta, my expectation is that Microsoft will finalize Windows 7 in April 2009 and deliver the OS to customers by June 2009 at the latest.