Gates gives first hints 'Windows 7' beta cycle could begin soon

If what the Microsoft chairman said last week in Tokyo is to be taken seriously, then the beta cycle for the next version of Windows must begin in a matter of weeks. If no such announcement happens, then the Gates era is truly over.

What will likely be Bill Gates' last Asian tour as Chairman of Microsoft has already generated plenty of news, especially with his public display of walking away from the Yahoo deal. But now that Microsoft has released its transcript of Gates' speech in Tokyo last Wednesday, prior to his press conference where the focus was on his Yahoo comments, we realize that he had intended to make news on a different front.

At a speech before the Digital Lifestyle Consortium there that day, Gates said it was his intention to crunch down the typical client operating system product lifecycle to three years at maximum, perhaps as narrow as two years.

"So it is a...there will be constant change. I see Windows, a major new version of Windows every two to three years," Microsoft cites its chairman as stating on May 7. "I see the services that Windows connects up to, like the social networking, or the file synchronization, I see those things being updated on an even more regular basis. So it's a very dynamic environment, where getting the feedback from the customers is very important to that."

The speech took Gates' traditional form of covering all the bullet points in equal measure; and this statement immediately followed his having touched upon his company's investment in so-called "natural user interface" technologies, which he characterized as non-mainstream.

The chairman did not go into detail on this subject, nor any other, so one element he managed to skip right over was the beta test cycle. Windows Vista was given its official name in July 2005, and its beta test roadmap was revealed the following week. Between that time and its release to manufacturing for commercial customers, was a span of time just over 14 months.

If Microsoft were to take its current chairman at his word, and slate the release of Windows 7 for (preferably) October 2009, then for any "dynamic customer feedback" to be meaningful, it would probably need to begin no later than this July. Which means that some meaningful announcement about not only a beta test roadmap but also branding would need to be prepared and ready for next month's TechEd 2008 in Orlando.

Gates mentioned Windows 7 during the speech only one other time, several minutes earlier: "We're hard at work, I would say, on the next version, which we call Windows 7," he said. "I'm very excited about the work being done there. The ability to be lower power, take less memory, be more efficient, and have lots more connections up to the mobile phone, so those scenarios connect up well to make it a great platform for the best gaming that can be done, to connect up to the thing being done out on the Internet, so that, for example, if you have two personal computers, that your files automatically are synchronized between them, and so you don't have a lot of work to move that data back and forth. Obviously we'd all love it if people had more PCs per average, and so making that simple is important."

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