Public Beta Now Available for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1

Today, we announced at our annual Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) the availability of the public beta for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1 (SP1). As Gavriella Schuster and I have mentioned in previous blogs, SP1 for Windows 7 does not contain any new features specific to Windows 7. However, the new features in SP1 for Windows Server 2008 R2 benefit Windows 7 by providing a richer Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) experience. For Windows 7, SP1 is simply a combination of updates already available through Windows Update and additional hotfixes based on feedback by our customers and partners. For more information on Windows 7 SP1 and new features for Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, I recommend reading this blog post from the Windows Server Division Weblog.

If you are an IT Professional interested in testing Windows 7 SP1, you can download the public beta via the Springboard Series on TechNet where you will find the download as well as other key deployment and support tools. For everyone else, Windows 7 SP1 will be available in the first half of 2011 through the usual channels.

Business customers tell us that they are already seeing the benefit of deploying Windows 7, and industry analysts agree that there is no need to wait for SP1. According to the IDC Survey “Deployment Opportunities for Windows 7” by Matt Healey, Al Gillen, and Cushing Anderson, Doc #223694, June 2010 - 64.7% of enterprises have already begun or will begin their migration to Windows 7 within the next 6 months and 89% of companies have definitive plans to begin their migration to Windows 7 within a 24-month period. And Forrester predicts that Windows 7 will become the new standard for most commercial PCs within 12 months (Forrester Research 2010):

“With Windows powering approximately 96% of corporate PCs, it’s a no-brainer for most firms to eventually transition to Windows 7.”

After only 7 months in market, Windows 7 had nearly 14% share of the global OS market, according to Net Applications for June 2010. Not only that, Windows 7 has become the fastest selling operating system in history. We recently announced that Windows 7 has sold 150 million licenses. Check out my blog posts here and here for more amazing Windows 7 momentum today.

In short – businesses should move full speed ahead with deploying Windows 7 today.

Along with today’s announcement of public beta availability of Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, we also wanted to provide customers and partners with more predictability around the lifecycle of Windows.

Prior to shipping Windows 7, we communicated that end-user downgrade rights provided in the software license terms of Windows 7 Professional or Windows 7 Ultimate editions preinstalled on a new PC would allow a customer to downgrade to either Windows XP Professional or similar Windows Vista versions for 18 months, or until the availability of SP1, whichever came sooner. Generally, PC manufacturers are in the process of ramping down Windows XP downgrade facilitation options that some offer today. As background, an OEM’s ability to generally offer downgrade facilitation options (e.g., preinstalling Windows XP Professional on a new PC that includes end-user rights for Windows 7 Professional) ends on October 22, 2010.

While the majority of customers are actively transitioning to Windows 7, and PC manufacturers are focused on delivering PCs and devices with Windows 7 preinstalled, our business customers have told us that the removing end-user downgrade rights to Windows XP Professional could be confusing, given the rights change would be made for new PCs preinstalled with Windows 7 and managing a hybrid environment with PCs that have different end-user rights based on date of purchase would be challenging to track.

Therefore, maintaining a more straightforward policy would help those customer segments that rely on downgrade rights as part of their migration planning – particularly in emerging markets and customers who may not take advantage of our volume license programs. 

To support our customers’ “unprecedented move” to migrate their PC environment to Windows 7, we have decided to extend downgrade rights to Windows XP Professional beyond the previously planned end date at Windows 7 SP1. This will help maintain consistency for downgrade rights throughout the Windows 7 lifecycle. As a result, the OEM versions of Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate will continue to include downgrade rights to the similar versions of Windows Vista or Windows XP Professional.  Going forward, businesses can continue to purchase new PCs and utilize end user downgrade rights to Windows XP or Windows Vista until they are ready to use Windows 7. Enabling such rights throughout the Windows 7 lifecycle will make it easier for customers as they plan deployments to Windows 7.

In the interest of providing more consistency and predictability with how we manage the Windows lifecycle, we are confirming our current policy of allowing retailers to sell the boxed version of the previous OS for up to 1 year after release of a new OS, and that OEMs can sell PCs with the previous OS pre-loaded for up to 2 years after, the launch date of the new OS. This means that since Windows 7 launched on October 22, 2009, retailers will be able to sell the boxed version of Windows Vista until October 22, 2010, and OEMs will be able to sell PCs with Windows Vista preinstalled until October 22, 2011. I also recommend checking out this blog post regarding Windows XP end-of-sales and end-of-support deadlines.

This lifecycle policy has been in effect since before the launch of Windows 7, and it has very little impact on most customers, as many retailers and OEMs have already discontinued sales of Windows Vista in favor of Windows 7. But it does ensure that our OEM and retail partners can discontinue sales of earlier versions of Windows within a predictable timeline. 

We are humbled by the amazing Windows 7 momentum and the positive feedback we continue to hear from customers and partners.

UPDATE 7/13: We’ve seen some confusion regarding the information in this blog post covering the changes we’ve announced to end user downgrade rights so I wanted to update this post with some clarification.

Customers who purchase Windows 7 PCs with end user downgrade rights as provided in the software license terms (EULA) will be able to downgrade to Windows XP Professional on those PCs for the life of the PC. However, customers will not be able to buy a Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate PC with end user downgrade rights after Windows 7 reaches the end of sales date in the OEM channel – which according to the current Windows Lifecycle policy is 2 years after the next version of Windows ships.

These changes are unrelated to our technical support policy. As mentioned in this blog post, extended support for Windows XP SP3 will continue through April 2014. So customers who downgrade their Windows 7 PCs to Windows XP will no longer be able to receive extended support after April 2014. After April 2014, customers will need to either get a custom support agreement or install a more modern OS on those PCs.

And of course there’s also the question of third party applications that run on Windows XP that our customers need as well. Analyst firms such as Gartner are predicting that many third party applications will no longer be supported by their makers after 2011, so we encourage customers to think holistically about their IT infrastructure as they make their Windows migration plans.