FAQ: How to get the Windows 7 beta

Microsoft this week is putting the new OS in everyone's hands

What edition of Windows 7 is the beta?

Microsoft said the beta is "roughly equivalent" to Vista Ultimate, which is a strong hint that the preview is actually Windows 7 Ultimate.

Microsoft's being cagey here because it refuses to say how many different editions of Windows 7 it will eventually sell, what they contain and how much they'll cost. Some have speculated, however, that unlike Windows Vista, which comes in five flavors -- Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, Enterprise and Ultimate -- Windows 7 will be sold in four versions: Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate. How big is the download? Microsoft's not said, but since the beta's build designation of 7000.0.081212-1400 is identical to copies that have leaked to BitTorrent, it's a good bet that the official download will be the same as the pirated files.

On BitTorrent, the downloads are: 2.44GB for the 32-bit version, 3.15Gb for the 64-bit version.

What languages are supported?

Microsoft's limited the beta to English, German, Japanese, Arabic and Hindi, with the last available only in 32-bit.

When does the beta expire?

Microsoft stayed with the August 1, 2009 expiration date, which it had used in earlier previews of the new OS, for the beta. On that date, the beta will stop working, according to the beta's end-user licensing agreement (EULA), which reads: "This software will stop running on August 1, 2009. You may not receive any other notice. You may not be able to access data used with the software when it stops running."

What's this I've heard about a bug in Windows 7?

You've heard right. Microsoft has acknowledged a bug in Windows Media Player 12 -- the version bundled with Windows 7 -- that shaves two-to-three seconds from the beginning of MP3 audio files.

Here's the scoop from a Microsoft support forum: "When MP3 files are added (either manually or automatically) to either the Windows Media Player or the Windows Media Center library, or if the file metadata is edited with Windows Explorer, several seconds of audio data may be permanently removed from the start of the file. This issue occurs when files contain thumbnails or other metadata of significant size before importing or editing them."

Microsoft has produced a patch and posted that to TechNet and MSND, the two destinations where the beta is currently available. Expect that it will do the same for the public beta tomorrow; it's also possible that the patch will be offered via Windows Update once you've installed the beta.

A support document -- designated as "KB961367" -- has been assigned to the bug, but it's not yet available on Microsoft's Web site.

Microsoft also recommended that users back up all MP3 files before installing the beta, and set all of them to "read-only" status by right-clicking each file in Windows Explorer, then clicking the General tab and selecting the "Read-only" box.

Right. Like you have time for that.

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