Microsoft confirmed this week that it will publicly launch its next OS - Windows 7 - on October 22. This will put the OS on store shelves a full three months earlier than originally planned.

However, there's plenty of activity that will take place between now and October. Here's the breakdown of some key events leading up to the Windows 7 release.

Windows 7 Upgrade Option

Microsoft is expected to unveil an upgrade programme for the Windows 7 release. The program is likely to let you get Windows 7 for free or with a discount if you've recently bought a Windows Vista-based PC that meets certain conditions.

So what are those conditions? That's not yet clear.

Microsoft has confirmed the program will be called ‘Windows Upgrade Option'. Early speculation suggests it may mirror the Vista Express Upgrade program, which provided free or discounted upgrades for users who'd bought XP-based systems in the months leading up to Vista's release.

That program didn't exactly run smoothly, though: many consumers expressed concern over hidden costs associated with the upgrade, while others complained of delays and other issues in getting their upgrade requests processed.

Microsoft is expected to release further details on how the Windows 7 upgrade program will operate in the coming weeks.

NEXT PAGE: Release-to-manufacturing phase

  1. The events taking place between now and October 22
  2. Release-to-manufacturing phase

Microsoft confirmed this week that it will publicly launch its next OS - Windows 7 - on October 22. However, there's plenty of activity that will take place between now and October. Here's the breakdown of some key events and revelations leading up to the Windows 7 release.

Windows 7 release-to-manufacturing

Another step in the Windows 7 release process will be the transition into the release-to-manufacturing (RTM) phase of development. That's the final phase before the software becomes available to consumers, and - as its name suggests - entails Microsoft sending the Windows 7 code to PC manufacturers so they can start preparing new systems for the October 22 release.

Windows 7's RTM phase is expected to begin in late July or early August.

Windows 7 Compatibility Center

Microsoft's official Windows 7 Compatibility Center will launch in conjunction with the software itself, according to a FAQ posted on the Microsoft site.

The Compatibility Center will allow you to make sure your devices and applications will work with Windows 7 before making the upgrade.

Vista's Compatibility Center launched with a very different timeline. The service went online in July 2008, a full year-and-a-half after Vista's release. In an ironic twist, the Vista Compatibility Center also seemed to have some compatibility issues of its own - the site was completely inaccessible to users during its first days online.

Microsoft, no doubt, is hoping Windows 7's release and reception will be a far less bumpy experience. If early coverage is any indication, that wish just may come true.

Don't take our word for it, though - try Windows 7 out for yourself. The Windows 7 Release Candidate is still available for download as of now. Microsoft has said the functionality and features will remain relatively constant from that version to the final release.

  1. The events taking place between now and October 22
  2. Release to manufacturing phase