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Microsoft Releases Windows 7 Beta as a Free Download

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Microsoft's excitable CEO Steve Ballmer showed off Windows 7 -- the slick, fast, user-friendly successor to the much-maligned Windows Vista -- and said it will be available as a public beta on Friday.

Unveiled by an intense Ballmer during his keynote address on the eve of CES 2009, Windows 7 will offer better performance on underpowered machines such as netbooks, support for multitouch interfaces, and simplified home networking.

Ballmer said that this would be the “best version of Windows ever" and pointed out features that implicitly acknowledged the problems with Windows Vista.

“We are putting in all the right ingredients -- simplicity, reliability and speed -- and working hard to get it right and to get it ready," said Ballmer.

Ballmer's keynote is his first at the big, prestigious CES show since the departure of Microsoft founder Bill Gates a year ago. He showed no signs of stage fright, bounding onstage in a maroon pullover, rubbing his hands together and grinning eagerly.

Microsoft is also eager to get Windows 7 into people's hands given the negative reaction to Windows Vista, which was widely panned. Released in 2007, Vista annoyed many customers with its hunger for computing resources and its seemingly incessant security notifications. Those notifications were such a defining characteristic of Vista that they were even satirized in Apple commercials. Despite the criticisms, Microsoft sold 20 million copies of Vista in the first month, and there are now an estimated 300 million users of Vista worldwide.

According to Ballmer, Windows 7 will be available to developers immediately, and to the general public on Friday, January 9. It will be a free download from Microsoft's site.

Windows 7 has been widely anticipated since developers got the first glimpse of it at a Microsoft conference earlier this year. Microsoft promises that the new OS will have faster startup and shutdown times, fewer security alerts, and will provide better power management leading to improved battery life on laptops.

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