SAN FRANCISCO - Microsoft said Thursday that a nearly-final version of its next-generation Windows 7 operating system will be publicly released on May 5.
The release will be available at microsoft.com/downloads in a move intended to signal that the software giant is putting finishing touches on an operating system that it hopes will escape criticism heaped on its predecessor Vista.
"Listening to our partners and customers has been fundamental to the development of Windows 7," said Bill Veghte, senior vice president for the Windows business at Microsoft.
"We heard them and worked hard to deliver the highest quality release candidate in the history of Windows."
The Windows 7 release candidate (RC) was made available to developers on Thursday.
The release indicates that little is likely to be changed in the final version of Windows 7 and that companies can begin tailoring software or hardware to the operating system, according to Microsoft.
Touted features include compatibility with touch-screen computer controls and with software designed to work with earlier-generation Windows XP operating system.
Critics lambasted Vista for being too complex and not being compatible with older software programs.
Windows XP holdouts are being told they will have to upgrade to Vista to make a transition to Windows 7.
"Windows 7 shows significant promise," Forrester Research analyst Ben Gray wrote in an independent report on the operating system. "Start preparing for it now, and the best way to prepare for Windows 7 is by deploying Windows Vista."