Even though Windows 7 looks set to be launched in late 2009 or January 2010, there's a lot of information we don't know about the new operating system, although some of it will be disclosed when the beta version is given to developers next month. We've rounded up the seven facts we do know about Windows 7.

The only thing we're certain about Windows 7 is that we need more information to understand this new operating system, which looks set to replace Windows Vista in 2010.

Microsoft has said that some information will come in late October and early November when a Beta version of Windows 7 will be handed out during two of its major conferences - the Professional Developers Conference, which takes from October 27-30, and the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference on November 5-7.

What is known beyond the Windows 7 code name is that Microsoft is building the operating system on the Windows Vista code base to avoid the sort of application-compatibility problems that plagued Vista early in its release. The new interface will feature the Ribbon toolbar throughout, and the server version will add the much-anticipated live migration feature to the virtualisation capabilities.

Sifting through the rest of the information, rumours and tidbits out there, here are seven things to know about Windows 7 before details start to emerge in advance of next month's conferences.

1. Betas

A beta version called Milestone 3 is in the hands of testers, according to Mary Jo Foley's All about Microsoft blog. The early release is out to a select group and Foley is saying Beta 1, the first public beta, will hit by the end of the year. Other handicappers, however, say it looks like the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) could be the place it is released. Others are pointing to the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) as the venue where the Windows 7 Beta 1 will be introduced. Las Vegas odds makers call that a pick 'em.

2. Final release

As far as the final release time frame, Microsoft Senior Vice President Bill Veghte sent a letter in June to enterprise and business customers saying "our plan is to deliver Windows 7 approximately three years after the January 2007 general availability launch date of Windows Vista". Such clarity from Microsoft is often lacking in these announcements, but pundits are interpreting Veghte's message to mean late 2009. In February, Bill Gates, then chief software architect, hinted at the same time frame. Some reports have said the ship date will be as early as June 2009.

3. Development

Many are asking why Microsoft has a chance of completing the operating system on such an ambitious schedule given the five years it took to get out Vista. One major reason is Steven Sinofsky, who took over Windows development in 2006 as Vista limped to its finish line. Sinofsky is best known for his workmanlike schedule for pumping out versions of Microsoft Office on a regular 18-month cycle. Windows 7 is Sinofsky's next big test and perhaps his legacy at Microsoft.

NEXT PAGE: Windows 7 features and users

  1. We may not know a lot, but here's what we do know
  2. Windows 7 features and users

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Visit PC Advisor's dedicated Windows 7 Spotlight for the latest news on the upcoming release

Even though Windows 7 looks set to be launched in late 2009 or January 2010, there's a lot of information we don't know about the new operating system, although some of it will be disclosed when the beta version is given to developers next month. We've rounded up the seven facts we do know about Windows 7.

4. Features

There are a few solids here, but speculation is clearly up and churning. In May, Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer gave the first Windows 7 demonstration, showing off multitouch screen technology. Gates also said before his retirement in July that synchronisation between Microsoft's Live Services and Windows 7 would figure prominently, as would digital ink and speech features. There are hints of a more modular operating system, much like Windows Server 2008 Server Core, and performance boosts. Recent screenshots from the Milestone 3 beta show the Ribbon toolbar in Wordpad and Paint. There is also evidence of new quick-install features. The glaring omission for IT is a dive into features that might make their lives easier.

5. Server version

While the client operating system is being touted as a major release (with minor revisions to the base Vista code), the server version is a minor release. Microsoft has announced that Windows 7 will actually be what was originally planned as Windows Server 2008 R2. A few weeks ago, Microsoft confirmed that R2 would bring live migration to its virtualisation platform and that the server was on-target to ship in early 2010, which would align release dates once again with the client operating system.

6. Users

Ship dates will be important. For Vista users with Software Assurance maintenance contracts, Windows 7 is already paid for as long as it ships within the length of the contract. Users who are still buying XP via downgrade rights through Vista Business and Ultimate will have mainstream XP support until April 14, 2009. Mainstream support includes such options as no-charge incident support, paid incident support, support charged on an hourly basis, support for warranty claims and hot-fix support. If Windows 7 ships in mid-2009, April could offer a tidy migration point to begin getting the upgrade cycle cranked up.

7. Stay tuned

Microsoft has launched a website called Engineering Windows 7 that is hosted by Sinofsky and his senior engineering management colleague Jon DeVaan. The blog has provided little in-depth information about Windows 7's features, but Sinofsky did say a major team goal is to "promise and deliver". Promises are what helped make Vista feel like a consolation prize. But so far the blog has only turned up tidbits like this: "Our goal is about building an awesome release of Windows 7". Er, great.

  1. We may not know a lot but here's what we do know
  2. Windows 7 features and user