Microsoft Thursday extended the deadline for downloading the public beta of Windows 7 by more than two weeks, citing continued interest in the preview.
The move suggests that fewer than 2.5 million copies of the beta have been downloaded since Microsoft launched the Windows 7 preview Jan. 10.
Although Microsoft had originally capped the downloads of Windows 7 beta at 2.5 million, after a rocky launch -- the company's servers were overloaded as frustrated users tried to download the preview -- the company lifted the limit and said it would offer the beta through today, Jan. 24.
Late Friday, Microsoft changed its mind again.
"Because enthusiasm continues to be so high for the Windows 7 Beta and we don't want anyone to miss out, we will keep the Beta downloads open through February 10," said company spokesman Brandon LeBlanc in a post to the Windows 7 blog .
LeBlanc didn't say whether the 2.5-million cap had been reached, noting only that, "We are at a point where we have more than enough beta testers ??? so we are beginning to plan the end of general availability of Windows 7 Beta."
According to comments made earlier this month by a Microsoft IT evangelist, the decision to keep the beta download open is a clue that download demand has not yet reached the 2.5-million mark. Two weeks ago, Kevin Remdes, a company evangelist, said that if the cap was not reached by today, downloads would continue "until the limit is reached."
Microsoft was not available for comment Saturday on whether the cap had been reached or surpassed, or to answer questions about how many copies it has provided users to this point.
Windows 7 beta availability will be shut down in stages, LeBlanc said. While the beta will be pulled from Microsoft's servers at the end of the day Feb. 10, users who have already begun the download by then will have two more days, through Feb. 12, to complete the process.
Users can pause the Windows 7 beta download and resume it later; an interrupted download -- perhaps due to a severed Internet connection -- can also be resumed at the point it was halted.
Activation keys will be available indefinitely for users who finished downloading the disk image file before Feb. 12. Even users unable or unwilling to activate the beta, however, can install and run Windows 7 for up to 120 days without a key by using the same "slmgr -rearm" command that gained notoriety after Windows Vista's debut.
Subscribers to the TechNet and Microsoft Developers Network (MSDN) will be able to download the beta after the February deadlines imposed on the general public, LeBlanc added.
Users can download Windows 7 from the Microsoft site after selecting the 32- or 64-bit version, and the desired language.