FAQ: How to get the Windows 7 beta

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

Late yesterday, Microsoft unveiled the public beta for Windows 7, the follow-on and follow-up to Vista, which from all signs the company is trying to forget as fast as possible.

CEO Steve Ballmer, in a surprisingly subdued keynote -- no real shouting -- made the announcement Wednesday night at the International CES. It wasn't much of a surprise, what with leaks to file-sharing sites and hints posted on Microsoft's own site in recent weeks.

Still, it's a new version of Windows, even if some have dubbed it "Vista, a lot better." Oh, wait, that was Ballmer himself, back in October.

And because it's fresh and shiny, there are plenty of people eager to try it out, wanting to decide for themselves whether Microsoft's hit a home run this time or just smacked another Vista. But where can you get it, how do you install it and what do you need to patch after you have it on your PC?

Questions, everyone has questions. We have some of the answers.

When can I download the beta?

Starting Friday, January 9. Microsoft hasn't said exactly when during the day, but in the past it has sometimes opened download gates worldwide at the same time and other times a rolling local time to spread out the load.

If you subscribe to Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) or TechNet, you can grab it today from here.

Where do I get it?

The public download will be posted to the Windows 7 site, here, Microsoft said. The beta will also be posted to Microsoft's IT-oriented Springboard Series site, which will add a "Windows 7" tab to the existing Windows XP and Windows Vista tabs already there.

What do I need to install the beta?

Microsoft's set the minimum requirements for the beta as a 1GHz processor, 1GB of memory, 16GB of free hard drive space and 128MB of graphics memory on a chipset or card able to support DirectX 9 graphics.

Those hardware requirements, by the way, are virtually identical to what Microsoft now says you have to have to install any version of Vista except for the entry-level Home Basic.

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