If I were somehow able to compile all of my email from the past year and filter it down so that I could see the questions I'm most often asked in order of frequency, I am absolutely positive that the number one query would be: "Where and when can I download the Windows 7 Beta?" I have actually known the answer to that question for some time, but I'm happy today to finally be able to state so publicly. It's happening this week.

Rejoice. :)

The timing

Today, on Wednesday, January 7, 2009, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will take the stage at the Palazzo Ballroom in the Venetian hotel and casino in Las Vegas. He will announce, among other things, the arrival of the Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 Beta releases, both of which will be made available to the public this week.

On Thursday, January 8, 2009, Microsoft will make these two products available to subscribers of the MSDN and TechNet services.

On Friday, January 9, 2009, Microsoft will make the Windows 7 Beta and the Windows Server 2008 R2 Beta available to the public via four different locations on Microsoft.com, each of which is oriented towards a different customer type. I don't have exact URLs yet, but suffice to say that the download availability will be obvious. I will update this article when possible with specific download links.

UPDATE: The Windows 7 Beta download is now available here. You can also try direct download links for both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions, though neither provides Product Keys.

What it is

When I began writing about the Windows 7 Beta last month, there was a bit of confusion about the origin of the build I was using and writing about. For the record, I did not acquire the Windows 7 Beta from BitTorrent or any other "pirate" site or service, but rather from my own sources, as usual. I only published my pre-made screenshot galleries after the build had leaked and my sources had OKed it.

That said, my job is to inform Windows users and enthusiasts about what is happening with their OS of choice. Had I been forced to download a pirated version of Windows 7, I absolutely would have done so. There is no moral or legal disconnect there at all. I'm a reviewer and a journalist, and information needs to be available to the public that wants it. Were I under NDA for this, of course, I would have honored that agreement.

And finally, yes, the build I wrote about back in December is indeed the official Windows 7 Beta and the version that everyone will get this week. Indeed, Microsoft created this build a month ago, on December 12, 2008, and then tested it for 10 days to ensure that it met the quality bars required to ship as the Beta. You can see this date for yourself in the full build string which is, in the x86 (32-bit version), 7000.x86fre.winmain_win7beta081212-1400.

Going forward

I'm excited to see how people respond to the Windows 7 Beta, and believe that reaction will be overwhelming positive. Windows 7 is an exciting product, and one that works quite well even in Beta form. So if you have been longing to give it a go yourself, your patience is about to be rewarded. And if you're not willing or able to install the Windows 7 Beta on a real PC--remember, Virtual PC is for sissies*--then fear not, I'll continue my in-depth examinations of this product for some time to come.