Earlier this week, Microsoft announced that Windows 7, the follow-on and follow-up operating system to Vista, was being made available in public beta today.

The news was no real 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?

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

Where and when can I download the beta?

Microsoft has said the public download will be available from the Windows 7 site from today. Although, the company didn't state when during the day it would be made available (we checked at 11am GMT and it still wasn't available). In the past , Microsoft has sometimes opened download gates worldwide at the same time and other times a rolling local time to spread out the load.

Alternatively, if you subscribe to Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) or TechNet, you can download it now. 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.

Anything else?

Yes, a DVD-ROM drive. In other words, a drive that can burn data to a recordable DVD disc.
You need that because Microsoft's not providing the beta as an executable or installation file, but as a disk image, or .iso file. Once you've downloaded the monster, you must burn the image to a DVD to create the installation disk. That means you need DVD-burning software, such as Nero 9 or Roxio Creator 9.

There are also plenty of for-free DVD-burning programs out there; Microsoft recommended ImgBurn, which you can download here.

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  1. How and where to get your trial of the new OS
  2. Activation keys
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