Microsoft has confirmed that Windows 7 has been released to manufacturing (RTM), meaning that the operating system is essentially finished and ready to ship to PC vendors ahead of official availability on 22 October.
With the RTM milestone passed, Windows 7 now has a clear roadmap to full availability. The new operating system is now being delivered to system vendors for integration into new PCs, while other software and hardware vendors will be able to download it starting from 6 August, along with subscribers of Microsoft's TechNet and MSDN services.
Meanwhile, enterprise customers with a Software Assurance volume licence will have access to the code a day later, on 7 August, while those without Software Assurance will have to wait until 1 September.
"Today is an exciting day that marks the culmination of a rigorous engineering process. The final code is now released to partners to build products ready for the holiday season on 22 October," said Rich Reynolds, general manager for Windows commercial marketing at Microsoft.
Reynolds said that Windows 7 had been so well received by beta testers that some enterprise customers have decided to proceed with deployment as soon as they receive the final code.
However, he added that enterprises would see more compelling benefits when they combined Windows 7 with the new Windows Server 2008 R2, which was also released to manufacturing today.
The combination of the two will provide firms with access to features such as branch caching, application whitelisting and DirectAccess, which enables mobile users to securely connect to the corporate network without a virtual private network.
Jim Ginger, director of services at Dell, said that because the vast majority of companies are still using Windows XP, they would find it easier to migrate to Windows 7 by ripping and replacing current systems rather than trying to upgrade ageing kit.
But the current economic situation means that this is likely to turn into an extended roll-out period as kit is replaced only gradually, he added.
Microsoft disclosed that European consumers will be offered an 'Internet Pack' containing Internet Explorer 8 free of charge when they buy Windows 7 at retail outlets.
The move follows the software giant's decision to ship the operating system without a browser in Europe as part of its ongoing anti-trust tussle with the European Commission.
However, Microsoft said that it had not yet decided whether the Windows 7 Family Pack will be available in the UK and Europe. The company revealed earlier this week that US consumers will be able to purchase Windows 7 as a Family Pack that can be installed on up to three PCs.