Microsoft will likely announce that Windows 7 has reached "release to manufacturing," or RTM, status on Wednesday, sources said.
The company would neither confirm or deny that Windows 7 will RTM Wednesday; a spokeswoman on Tuesday simply repeated the company's earlier pledge that it would move the new operating system into its final pre-sale phase sometime "in the second half of July."
"RTM almost seems like a non-event," says Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, who stressed that he had no special knowledge of when Microsoft would declare Windows 7 finished. "But it's got to be any day now."
If the company does put its seal of approval on Windows 7 on Wednesday, it would be able to note that it successfully met the deadline when officials hold their quarterly earnings call with Wall Street analysts Thursday afternoon.
In Cherry's eyes, the importance of RTM has ebbed since Windows Vista. "You really have to give a lot of kudos to Mr. Sinofsky, who controlled the schedule," says Cherry, referring to Steven Sinofsky, who led Windows 7 development and was recently promoted to president of the Windows division. "We know what day it's going to be available, and it looks to be a decent product. In the end, he delivered."
Contrast that with Vista's rollout, Cherry continued, when "you wondered if they were ever going to finish it, and what they might drop along the way."
In a long entry to a company blog, Microsoft spokesman Brandon LeBlanc spelled out who will get Windows 7 RTM when. One of the few things he wouldn't say was the actual RTM date. "While I have nothing new to add regarding RTM today, I do, however, have more precise information to give on when you will be able to get RTM," says LeBlanc.
Microsoft's hardware and software partners will receive copies of Windows 7 RTM starting August 16 or August 23, depending on which partner program they're assigned. OEMs, or original equipment manufacturers -- in other words, computer makers -- will have Windows 7 in hand approximately two days after Microsoft's announcement. Assuming RTM is announced Wednesday, OEMs could receive final code as early as Friday.
Volume licensing customers, normally large organisations and companies, will be able to grab Windows 7 RTM starting Aug. 7 if they have an existing Software Assurance plan, or on September 1 if they do not.
Developers and IT professionals who subscribe to MSDN (Microsoft Developers Network) and TechNet, respectively, will see Windows 7 RTM show on those services' download pages August 6. Oddly enough, Microsoft said that IT professionals would also be able to grab Windows 7 from the Springboard Series site "shortly after RTM." Microsoft was not available to clarify who would have access to the RTM, and exactly when.
Springboard is a public site that targets IT workers, and has in the past offered downloads of Windows 7's beta and release candidate at the same time those were issued to the public.
Consumers and other customers will have their first shot at Windows 7 on its official launch day, the previously-announced October 22.
LeBlanc also confirmed that Microsoft will sell a three-license "family pack" upgrade from earlier editions of the OS to Windows 7 Home Premium, but did not flesh out that notice with pricing or timing information. Reports have circulated for two weeks that Microsoft would reprise the multi-license upgrade pack it offered for Windows Vista; at least one reseller has posted the suggested list price as US$149.99 on its website.