Microsoft today announced that Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 have hit the Release to Manufacturing (RTM) milestone. The software giant still has a lot of work to do, but the bigger responsibility now falls to OEMs that must get PCs ready, Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) that are testing their new apps, and Independent Hardware Vendors (IHVs) that are preparing their new hardware.
The RTM build is 7600, but it is not the same one that leaked less than two weeks ago (7600.16384). We speculated that Microsoft may end up recompiling build 7600 until it is satisfied, but it only took the company one more shot to get it right: 7600.16385 is the final build number. Microsoft refused to share the full build string, but if you trust leaks from a few days ago, it's "6.1.7600.16385.090713-1255," which indicates that the final build was compiled over a week ago: July 13, 2009, at 12:55pm. This would be in line with the rumored RTM date but it is also the day Microsoft stated that Windows 7 had not yet hit RTM. Although the final build had been compiled, Microsoft still had to put it through testing before christening it as RTM.
Who gets it when?
OEMs will be the first to get their mitts on the final Windows 7 code, with the English-language version being sent out on July 24 and remaining languages on July 28. They're first in line as they need to prepare Windows 7 for new PCs. Next up are ISVs and IHVs, who can grab the RTM build from Microsoft Connect and MSDN on August 6, as can MSDN and TechNet subscribers. Volume License customers with Software Assurance are next, with the English-language version available to them on August 7 and other languages shortly thereafter.
Partner Program Gold/Certified members gain access on August 16 and Action Pack subscribers on August 23 with access to the other languages to come by October 1. Last up are consumers, who can purchase Windows 7 on October 22.
Microsoft has confirmed that Windows 7 testers will not be getting a free copy of the new operating system, as Windows Vista testers received the Ultimate edition for sending in at least one bug. The company suggested that this might happen back when invites to test the operating system were sent in December 2008. Therefore, unless they fall into one of the other categories above, beta testers will have to wait like all other consumers until October 22.
Family Pack for Windows 7
On the Windows 7 Team Blog Microsoft confirmed rumors from earlier last month about a three-computer "Family Pack" deal for Windows 7 Home Premium: "I'm happy to confirm that we will indeed be offering a family pack of Windows 7 Home Premium (in select markets) which will allow installation on up to three PCs." Microsoft refused, however, to disclose when the pack would become available or how much it would go for, though many are expecting the price tag to be $150.
Microsoft started work on Windows 7 with partners much earlier than it did with Windows Vista, and beta testers are reporting that the decision has paid off thus far. Whether that is true or not will become evident in the coming months. Today's major announcement follows pricing details made in June 2009 and edition details made in February 2009.
Europeans will not be able to directly upgrade from Windows Vista to Windows 7. Microsoft yesterday detailed upgrade paths from old Windows editions to its upcoming Windows 7 OS, and confirmed that UK Vista users will need to do a clean install of Windows 7.
Microsoft is expected to ship special versions of Windows 7 to European customers, but the versions will need a clean install on PCs, according to a blog entry on Microsoft's website. The software giant has released special editions of Windows 7 in Europe including Windows 7 E, which lacks a browser, and Windows 7 N, which lacks a browser and media player technologies. Windows 7 is scheduled for a worldwide launch on October 22.
The company released Windows 7 E editions - including Premium, Professional, Ultimate and Starter editions - to comply with the European Commission's antitrust ruling against the company. However, the commission panned Microsoft's decision to strip the browser from Windows 7 E, saying that instead of providing more choice, Microsoft appeared to be providing less choice.
Users in other parts of the world will be able to upgrade directly from Windows Vista to Windows 7. However, Microsoft isn't allowing upgrades from Windows 7 Release Candidate or Windows XP, according to a document outlining OS upgrade paths for users worldwide. Nor are direct upgrades allowed from Windows NT Server 4.0, Windows 2000 Server, Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2008 or Windows Server 2008 R2.
Kevin Turner, Microsoft's Chief Operating Officer, told partners during his Worldwide Partner Conference keynote not only about the upcoming Microsoft Stores this fall to be placed near Apple stores but also about how Apple's lawyers wanted Microsoft to take down their Laptop Hunter ads. Here's the story he told (keep in mind that it's coming from a Microsoft executive):
And so we've been running these PC value ads. Just giving people saying, hey, what are you looking to spend? "Oh, I'm looking to spend less than $1,000." Well we'll give you $1,000. Go in and look and see what you can buy. And they come out and they just show them. Those are completely unscripted commercials.
And you know why I know they're working? Because two weeks ago we got a call from the Apple legal department saying, hey -- this is a true story -- saying, "Hey, you need to stop running those ads, we lowered our prices." They took like $100 off or something. It was the greatest single phone call in the history that I've ever taken in business. (Applause.)
I did cartwheels down the hallway. At first I said, "Is this a joke? Who are you?" Not understanding what an opportunity. And so we're just going to keep running them and running them and running them.
You can read the whole transcript of Turner's keynote on Microsoft Presspass.
The most recent Laptop Hunters ad features Matt and Olivia, who are looking for a $700 computer they can use to share pictures of their son Jayden with friends and family. It needs to have a large screen and great battery life, and of course they find their dream machine.
These are the best ads Microsoft has run in a while; they're clearly working, but we're not sure Microsoft should keep them going for much longer. Hopefully the software giant will think of something fresh once Windows 7 rolls out.
Microsoft took the wraps off a new Web service dedicated to managing energy use. Called "Hohm" (presumably, a play on the combination of "home and "Ohm"), the product will take advantage of smart grid data on energy use when it's available. Even when it's not, however, Hohm will allow users to input their own details and share the results of their efficiency efforts, adding a bit of a Web 2.0 sheen to matters. The move comes after a number of other major IT powers, including Google and Cisco, have announced their own efforts in the area, suggesting that a lot of people think this market is about to take off.
The Hohm service itself is a bit of a hybrid of a number of services. From the smart grid perspective, a growing number of hardware makers are producing equipment that uses standardized methods of structuring and reporting data. That allows just about anyone to plug into the data, provided they're willing to work with utilities to obtain it. At the moment, Microsoft has lined up four utilities that will work when the service starts up, but they're certainly going to be working hard to bring more on before then. Two smart meter companies were also in on the announcement, indicating that Microsoft has already started validating the input from some of the existing hardware.
The data, however it's obtained, will be stored using Redmond's cloud offering, Windows Azure. The people behind Hohm have undoubtedly benefited from the experience of those who've built Microsoft's medical records service, which also uses Azure.
No, Windows 7 did not release to manufacturing yesterday, a fact that was once again repeated by Microsoft to Betanews late yesterday. As blogger Ed Bott accurately pointed out, those who drew conclusions about the multitude of zeroes in the build number were not taking into account the more esoteric meanings such numbers have historically held within Microsoft.
So yesterday's news of volume licensing discounts for Windows 7 beginning September 1 was not a delay. In fact, as a Microsoft spokesperson outlined for Betanews late yesterday, business customers are already eligible for upgrades to Windows 7 under their existing Software Assurance program, which will expire shortly after the new licensing program is set to begin.
"If your PCs are covered by Software Assurance when Windows 7 is released, then you automatically get the rights to deploy Windows 7 Enterprise to those PCs without an additional license fee (media fulfillment fees may apply)," reads Microsoft's partner page explaining the Software Assurance (SA) program.
In fact, there's a window of opportunity for SA customers to get a big break throughout the entire month of August, the spokesperson told us. If a customer purchases a new PC between July 31 and August 31, and "if a customer attaches Software Assurance to a new PC, that PC is eligible to upgrade to Windows 7 Enterprise as soon as it is available." There's a 15% discount on SA costs during that month as well.
"This offer is the better deal," the spokesperson admitted, "because the cost is less and the customer gets Windows 7 Enterprise."
Developers on the "Shiretoko" track for Mozilla's new open source Firefox 3.5 Web browser now have very good reason to expect a ship date for the first round of bug fixes and vulnerabilities. A very big vulnerability has turned up in just the wrong place: a public site for posting exploits.
The problem is a new permutation of an old exploit technique that, ironically, was first brought to prominence in 2006 by a package called "Internet Exploiter." It's called a heap spray, comprised of shellcode that's set to be distributed into an area in blocks, a bit like spraying bricks into a wall. The resulting pattern may contain executable code that can be triggered through an overflow; and in this case, it's version 3.5's embedded font support, using the <FONT /> tag, that's the trigger.
A check of the Bugzilla database this morning does not indicate the issue as an active security bug among Mozilla testers. However, security firm Secunia rates the vuln "Extremely Critical," as the published exploit is believed to be in use in the wild.
In its proof-of-concept distribution, the exploit triggers CALC.EXE in Windows, though it's an academic matter for someone to make that trigger run other code, perhaps an arbitrary payload. Though this exploit is not a "virus" per se, despite how some local TV newscasts may portray it, certainly the arbitrary payload this trigger may enable could be infectious.
Though a general planning meeting for next-stage Firefox development was scheduled for yesterday morning, and security problems were scheduled to be on the agenda, apparently this latest exploit had not yet cropped up at the time developers met. Meeting notes published yesterday concerning the bug fix schedule for 3.5.1 read, "Contrary to some reports on the Internet, this is the usual process for Firefox and software releases; the 3.5 release was strong, stable and solid, and feedback has been extremely positive. Near the end of the release we become extremely conservative about patches to accept; the 3.5.1 release is a quick update to fold in some patches that came up late in the 3.5 release cycle."
Candidate builds of 3.5.1 were scheduled for next week, though today's discovery may accelerate the release process.