As expected, the beta of Windows 7 was officially launched by Microsoft just before the beginning of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2009. It is immediately available to MSDN and TechNet subscribers, as well as to technical beta testers. Other customers will have to wait until Friday, January 9, to download it for a test drive.
According to Microsoft, Windows 7 will be a leaner operating system compared to Windows Vista, requiring as little as 1GB of memory, though some users jest that this was precisely what Microsoft said about Windows Vista as well. Still, PC World speculated that it might well run on netbooks, which would go along with my assertion yesterday that netbooks have a place in the SMB.
I did suggest in October last year that Windows 7 means that your business can migrate to Vista. This remains my general recommendation, which is in fact mirrored by Stella Chernyak, a director in Microsoft's Windows Client product group. Her advice: "At least begin testing applications and hardware with Windows Vista now, because it will eliminate potential headaches with an XP-to-Windows 7 upgrade."
However, I must caution that Microsoft recently announced that a machine preloaded with Windows Vista is eligible for a free upgrade to Windows 7 upon its release. This offer is only applicable for new machines purchased after July 1, 2009, and contingent upon selected versions of Windows Vista; Vista Starter and Vista Home Basic are not eligible for upgrades.
As it is, SMBs might do well to weigh the benefits, and I expect that some companies will now look for ways to only upgrade once.
So how does the release of Windows 7 beta affect small and medium-sized businesses? Not a lot at this point, though managers and senior executives will do well to monitor its progress into a full-fledged release. Microsoft has a track record of being late with its operating system releases, though the timely beta release of Windows 7 could well mark a departure from the past.
Ballmer promised that "Windows 7 will make everyday tasks faster and easier." Let's wait and see.