PC industry sources in Asia and the U.S. tell CNET News that they have heard things are on track to launch by this year's holiday shopping season, which has been Microsoft's internal target for some time.
Microsoft is also putting the finishing touches on a program to offer Vista buyers a free or low-cost update to Windows 7. That program could kick off as early as July, sources said.
The company has run such "technology guarantee" programs in the past, typically allowing each PC maker to set the exact rules, but essentially offering buyers after a certain time to get a free upgrade to the next version. (TechArp has a post with even more details on Microsoft's planned Windows 7 Upgrade Program.)
In an interview at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Microsoft senior VP Bill Veghte cautioned that the release still could be pushed into 2010, depending on customer feedback.
"I'm telling them that it could go either way," Veghte said in that January interview. "We will ship it when the quality is right, and earlier is always better, but not at the cost of ecosystem support and not at the cost of quality."
That remains the company's official position, although the wheels are spinning toward a release in time for Windows 7 machines to be sold this holiday season, PC industry sources tell CNET News.
The response to test versions of Windows 7 has been in stark contrast with the issues that dogged Windows Vista, which was a much more fundamental update to the operating system. Although Windows 7 adds things like an improved taskbar and snappier performance, the operating system shares most of the same underpinnings as Windows Vista.
Microsoft has reiterated that it plans just a single beta for Windows 7. That beta launched in January and Microsoft this week stopped offering downloads of the test version. The company has said it will have a near-final "release candidate" version, but has not said when that will come.
Earlier this month, Microsoft confirmed that it plans to sell at least six distinct versions of Windows 7, although it also said it will focus its efforts around two editions--Windows 7 Home Premium and Windows 7 Professional. (By way of comparison, Microsoft announced the different versions of Vista in February 2006 before ultimately making the code available to business customers in November 2006).
For those that can read Chinese, here is ZDNet Taiwan's earlier report on the subject.
ZDNet Taiwan's Agnes Kuang contributed to this report.
By Ina Fried