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Microsoft’s forthcoming Windows 7 operating system was released to
manufacturing on Wednesday, a milestone that signals the formal
completion of the engineering development phase.

Partners and ISVs can work with the final version, with locked-in code
and features, as they build out their own solutions heading toward the
general availability launch of the products this fall, according to

“Not only is RTM an important milestone for us – it’s also an
important milestone for our partners,” wrote one member of the
engineering team on the Windows Blog. “Today’s release is the result of
hard work and collaboration with our partners in the industry to make
Windows 7 a success. We delivered Windows 7 with a predictable feature
set on a predictable timetable that allowed OEMs to focus on value and
differentiation for their customers.”

Windows 7 is due out in general release on Oct. 22 and has been so
far reviewed favorably by partners, who are smarting from the abject
failure of Microsoft’s current client OS, Windows Vista, to take any
respectable hold in the marketplace. PC manufacturers and hardware
resellers are also placing bets that a Windows 7 uptick will drive new
sales of systems.

Microsoft said 16,000 partners, including ISVs and OEMs, have been
participating in the Windows 7 Readiness program, already building out
solutions. Mike Nash, corporate vice president of Windows Product
Management, told Channel Insider that solution providers and VARs will
find as much opportunity in Windows 7 as their ISV and OEM counterparts.

“What can VARs do? They can help customers running Windows XP to
make the move to Windows 7,” he said. “Even with the great work of XP
SP2, the gap between it and Windows 7 is significant for the browser,
the core OS and other features we’ve enhanced. That’s an opportunity.”

While partners are optimistic about Windows 7’s potential, many
still see their fortunes tied to customers finally getting around to
the PC upgrade process.

“Most of our customers don’t ever upgrade to a new OS on its own;
they do so when they buy new PCs,” said Brian Jaenisch, Microsoft
partner business development manager at Marco, in St. Cloud, Minn. “So
today, that amounts to a lot of platform work for us around Windows 7.”

IDC is also predicting that Windows 7 adoption will take place quickly, with 177 million units shipped by the end of next year.