Downloads of pirated Windows 7 beta candidate soar

Build 7000 of upcoming OS growing in popularity on BitTorrent sites

Downloads of a new build of Microsoft's upcoming Windows 7 operating system have soared in the past two days, with thousands of systems now pulling pirated copies from BitTorrent sites.

Searches Tuesday on the Pirate Bay BitTorrent site, for example, returned multiple listings of Windows 7 Build 7000, which Microsoft identifies as a beta candidate in the filename. The torrent is a disk image of the 32-bit version of Windows 7 Ultimate; a 64-bit version is not yet available.

The most heavily trafficked Windows 7 BitTorrent on Pirate Bay showed more than 4,300 "seeders" -- the term for a computer that has a complete copy of the torrent file -- and about 7,500 "leechers," or computers that have downloaded only part of the complete torrent. Less popular BitTorrents of the file on Pirate Bay claimed an additional 1,000 seeders and more than 3,000 leechers.

On Saturday, a day after the first copies of Build 7000 appeared on BitTorrent, Pirate Bay's prime listing showed less than half as many seeders as it did today.

Similar increases could be seen on other BitTorrent sites. For example, Mininova listed almost 20 Windows 7 BitTorrents -- some of them duplicates of the ones that appeared in searches of Pirate Bay. Two of the torrents on the Mininova site had more than 4,500 seeders each.

Bloggers who have downloaded the pirated operating system -- such as ZDNet.com's Ed Bott -- are reporting that its end-user licensing agreement labels the new build as the beta that Microsoft has promised it will open to the public in early 2009.

Although Microsoft hasn't specified a release date, information published on its own Web site earlier this month hinted that the beta would become available no later than Jan. 13. And with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer slated to deliver a keynote speech Jan. 7 on the evening before the opening of the International CES trade show in Las Vegas, speculation has been brisk that he will not only talk about Windows 7, but possibly also announce the immediate availability of the beta.

However, Microsoft has stuck to its earlier vague timetable. "The Windows 7 public beta is still expected in early 2009," a company spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail. She declined to respond to questions about what actions Microsoft would, or could, take against BitTorrent sites that list the pirated build.

Windows 7 is scheduled to ship late next year or in early 2010, according to statements made previously by Microsoft.

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Gregg Keizer

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