Sorry–Microsoft’s not really wowing the consumer and managing an early release of Windows 7 as Apple just did for Snow Leopard. It is pushing Win7 out the door ahead of time, but it’s the highly-specialized embedded-systems version.
Specifically MS just released Windows Embedded Standard 2011 as a beta test (or “community technology preview”) version, and it has done so without any fanfare whatsoever. That’s interesting, since WES2011 is a next-gen version of the XP-powered WES2009, and is basically the industrial version of Windows 7. As Microsoft puts it, WES2011 “delivers the power, familiarity and reliability of the Windows 7 operating system in a highly-customizable and componentized form.” The whole trick of the WES versions of Windows being that OEMs can almost cut and paste core components of the system to best suit the hardware and software needs of the specific embedded-systems uses they’ll be put to.
That basically means people who use Windows for “industrial automation, entertainment, consumer electronics…medical” and many other purposes can get their hands on a pre-release Win7 version right now, and start prepping their next-gen systems to best-exploit its powers.
Why’s this exciting? Probably because you encounter embedded Windows more often than you realize–many of those funny Blue Screens Of Death that you see in public computer systems come from embedded Windows implementations. WES2011 will mean these public-facing systems can exploit the neat code built into MS’s next-gen operating system. Things like the Aero UI will affect how you interact with certain machines, along with support for multitouch trackpads. But there’s a whole lot of back-end stuff going on that you’ll never directly see, but which should improve things a lot–we’re talking about 64-bit CPU support, improved greenness thanks to enhanced power management APIs, and enterprise-friendly code like Active Directory group security and access policies, and the Virtual Desktop Infrastructure.
Just don’t expect to get a better user experience from those devices anytime soon: Though MS has released the beta download a tad early, it’ll actually be finalized, and released to manufacturers later next year.