Countdown to Windows 7

There’s talk that Microsoft has signed off internally on the Beta 1 Windows 7 bits. Word is the build number of what goes out to testers will be 6.1.7000.0.081212-1400.

What do all those digits mean? And when will testers actually get their hands on the code?

Windows power users and long-time beta testers probably need no explanation, but the rest of us undoubtedly could stand some schooling. Here’s how it works:

  • 6 = Major NT OS version number (Windows 7, as the Softies have said, is built on the Windows Vista kernel, which they call NT Version 6)
  • 1 = Minor version number
  • 7000 = Major build number
  • 0 = Minor build number (if needed; otherwise omitted on most builds)
  • 081212-1400 = Build date stamp (08 = year, 12 = month, 12 = day, 1400= 2 p.m. using a 24-hour- format time stamp)

Once a release of Windows is released to manufacturing, the major build number is only changed when service packs are introduced. Example: VistaSP2/2008SP2 is build 6002. (The RTM build of Vista was No. 6000.16386.061101.2205, for those keeping track at home.)

So if Beta 1 really is 6.1.7000.0.081212-1400, it would mean it was built on December 12 at 2 p.m. (For the record, Microsoft officials still won’t talk build numbers and won’t say whether this is actually Beta 1 or if some later build will be officially christened Beta 1.)

Build numbers aside, when will testers get their hand on the Beta 1 bits? That’s a bit tenuous, too.

A Russian Web site posted earlier this week that testers would get the Beta 1 bits before the end of this week. But in the Beta 1 invite Microsoft sent to testers, company officials told the pre-selected group of “tech beta testers” not to expect to get Beta 1 code until early 2009.

I asked Microsoft for clarification on December 17, and was told by a spokesperson that testers won’t get the code until January.

Update: I asked again on December 18, just for the heck of it and got a slightly different statement from a spokesperson — a statement that leaves open the door for early beta deliveries:

“It is part of our normal testing process for testers to receive regular builds; however, the Windows 7 public beta is still expected in early 2009.”

Here’s my guess: I bet some fairly small group of testers will, indeed, get the Beta 1 bits by this weekend. But in order to keep the Windows team from being saddled with support and answering questions over the holidays, the majority of tech beta testers won’t get the code until early January. The public won’t get Beta 1 until some time after the tech beta testers give Beta 1 their overall stamp of approval — think later in January (with some kind of official Microsoft announcement at the Consumer Electronics Show).

One thing’s for sure: If early code recipients put the Beta 1 bits on torrents in the next few days, Beta 1 will be available all over the Web before the start of 2009. Maybe that initial internal Microsoft pre-Christmas Beta 1 target won’t be so far off, after all….

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