Ballmer gives a hoot for the official release of the Windows 7 beta.  (Source: Jason Mick/DailyTech)

Windows 7 beta is available to MSDN and TechNet subscribers now. It will be available to the general public Friday. Windows 7 is landing in mid to late 2009.  (Source: Jason Mick/DailyTech)

Microsoft Project Manager Charlotte Jones was on hand to show off Windows 7's new user interface. Windows 7, which sports an OS X like skin, is much more intuitive and graphically rich than Windows Vista.  (Source: Jason Mick/DailyTech)
The public will get its first, well... official first taste of Windows 7

Steve Ballmer, always an entertaining speaker, graced the Consumer Electronics Show 2009 in Las Vegas with a keynote speech on the night before the show's official launch. While not as animated as in some of his speeches (there was no hollering involved), his enthusiastic presentation did not disappoint and included a number of big announcements.

Perhaps the largest was the (official launch of the Windows 7 beta to MSDN and TechNet subscribers.  The beta may look a little familiar to some as it leaked onto torrents last week.  Some have accused Microsoft of engineering the leak as a PR stunt.  All of that is in the past now, though, as Windows 7 beta is getting official.  The beta will be available to general users worldwide this Friday.

Steve Ballmer broke the news to tremendous applause, stating, "The beta version of Windows 7, Microsoft's next-generation PC operating system, can be downloaded today by MSDN, TechBeta and TechNet customers. Consumers who want to test-drive the beta will be able to download it beginning January 9 at"

A Group Project Manager, Charlotte Jones, was on hand to walk the audience through all Windows 7's hottest features.  What was most interesting was how different the feel from Microsoft was in contrast to past OS's.  Gone was the spartan interface of past versions of Windows, replaced by a graphics rich user OS.  Some audience members might have sworn they had accidentally stumbled into an Apple Leopard demo at MacWorld.

While Windows 7 is architecturally remarkably similar to Vista, Microsoft's focus has been on providing users with in essence a cleaner, more intuitive, and prettier interface.  While the merits of such an approach, long championed by Apple, are debatable, it’s hard to debate that Microsoft has succeeded in meeting these goals.

The Preview Bar, which previews Internet Explorer 8 tabs, jump lists available in most programs, dockable windows, and even the much maligned revamped taskbar were all showcased.  Jones also demoed some of the new touch screen technology, an important addition to Windows 7.

In all the UI is shaping up to be fast, responsive and intuitive.  The learning curve may be slightly steeper for those with limited computer experience as the new OS brings more menus and widgets to the interface, but for all the added content it mostly feels remarkably simple and intuitive.

Noticeably absent, though, was any sort of information on the memory footprint of Windows 7 or talk of hardware compatibility, two major concerns users have voiced on DailyTech and elsewhere.  While memory usage in Windows 7 was very similar to Windows Vista in the milestone releases, a source at Microsoft spoke with DailyTech before the briefing and stated, "The final release will likely be substantially leaner than the milestones."

Memory usage and hardware support were two of Windows Vista's biggest shortcomings, particularly during the OS's early days.  While it is unclear if Windows 7 is going to give Vista's critics something to change their minds, it may go a long way to helping the average user have a more enjoyable experience.  And as of Friday you can go online and download the official beta and form your own opinions of 2009's biggest coming software release.

"I modded down, down, down, and the flames went higher." -- Sven Olsen

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