01/28/2009 | 09:55 AM
In early 2009 the test version of Microsoft Windows 7 Beta operating system became first available to specialists and a few days later – to everyone else. However, you could download this version even in the end of last year from unofficial sources. We took advantage of that opportunity, the same way we did it with the 6801 and 6956 versions before, in order to watch how the development went on and tell you about the changes and innovations we could expect to see in the new operating system. This is what our today’s article is going to be about.
Let’s dot all i’s right away: I am absolutely neutral about Microsoft Windows Vista. Many users decided to test drive this OS and installed it on their computers. However, once they came face to face with new interface, performance drop or some other issues, they went back to Windows XP and swore to wait for the next Microsoft OS version, because Windows Vista was useless. Of course, this dramatic criticism is far from truth, and my personal experience with this operating system at home and at work proves it. Windows Vista didn’t spread out as rapidly as they have expected for many reasons. In the corporate sector it seemed like a really bad idea to spent pretty substantial financial resources on software upgrades during the notorious economic crisis. I guess it also came from the snobbism of IT-professionals, namely “I am not installing new Windows until Service Pack 1 comes out” principle. As for the home users, Windows XP has been in the market for such a long time that there is the whole generation that hasn’t seen any other Microsoft OS’s. Of course, anything differing from the well-familiar functionality gets a hostile reception, and youthful enthusiasm doesn’t accept anything between black and white. In fact, the previous transition from Microsoft Windows 98 to Windows XP also wasn’t that smooth, and the change from Windows 3.11 to Windows 95 is simply impossible to describe.
Why did I start talking about Windows Vista? Because we are going to compare the new Windows 7 Beta with this particular OS. The planned transition from Windows Vista to Windows 7 will be not so painful, because the new operating system should be regarded as a sort of corrected version. Of course, Windows Vista is not free from some bugs and drawbacks, like any other OS, but even if it were ideal, we would still be interested in the new Microsoft creation. The developers will definitely share with us the details about indepth code changes, numerous improvements and optimizations. As for us, we are going to primarily focus on the new functions and features of Microsoft Windows 7 and the exterior differences from Windows Vista.
I don’t think I should tell you in details how to download an installation image and burn it onto a DVD disc. You can read everything you need to know about the preparation stage on Microsoft’s web-site, where there is an entire section devoted to the new OS. Read carefully the release notes and description of known issues. Remember, that it is a beta version and not the final release that is why Microsoft doesn’t recommend installing it on your main home or office PC.
The installation procedure seems to have no noticeable differences from Windows Vista. The only thing that immediately catches your eye is the color scheme that has become blue instead of green.
However, the next window offering to choose the type of installation made me stop right there. As usual, I was about to format the system drive and install the new “clean” copy of operating system on it, however, I was offered to upgrade the current OS with the new one and to keep all my current settings, files and programs.
I doubt you will consider reinstalling the OS just because you are bored and have nothing else to do. You normally resort to OS reinstallation in case you encounter fatal issues that can best be resolved by “clean” install. I had Windows Vista that was recently replaced with Microsoft Windows 7 version 6956. It looks very similar to Windows 7 Beta version 7000, but it only lasted one week, because having got tired of constantly emerging error I decided to go back to stable Windows Vista SP1. So, this time I thought I should check out the update option instead of performing another “clean” install. In this case you should start Windows 7 installation from the existing OS. It will check the compatibility of existing programs and offer to remove those that may not work properly after upgrade.
I knew that Windows 7 was incompatible with Daemon Tools CD/DVD drive emulator; however, I was very disappointed to discover that it was also incompatible with Skype. Nevertheless, I found out later that this utility worked just fine. By the way, every time you try to launch an incompatible program you will get an error message like this:
If you check that the functions of your applications are working fine, then you can select “Don’t show this message again” in the lower left corner of the window to stop the error messages from popping up upon next program boot-up. Windows Vista offers the same option, but I haven’t paid attention to it before.
But let’s get back to Windows 7 installation. It is carried out the same way as Windows Vista installation, with system reboots, and in the end you need to type in username and password. If you selected an upgrade procedure instead of “clean” installation, it will take a little longer, because several hundred thousand files will need to be updated. However, you will be rewarded for your patience with a fully operational system set up to your taste with the complete list of all your favorite programs.
There is one more interesting thing. If you install Windows 7 onto a hard drive with unpartitioned space, the installer will create two partitions at once. One will be 200MB big; it will be active but hidden. It contains the system boot-up files that take only 32MB of space. The second partition is a common system partition; this is where Windows 7 files are going to be saved. There is a lot of speculation online about the real purpose for this additional hidden 200MB partition. And the correct answer is available on Microsoft web-site: to simplify drive encryption using BitLocker technology. If the system drive is encrypted and there is no free access to it, you will need a small unencrypted boot-up partition with open access to start the system. This partition is created automatically during Windows 7 installation that is why you will not need to repartition the hard drive later on when you enable BitLocker encryption.
To enable hard drive encryption using BitLocker technology your mainboard should be equipped with TPM (Trusted Platform Module), so many users will never actually use this additional hidden partition at all. To skip creating it altogether, you should install the OS onto a drive with all necessary partitions already created and no unpartitioned space. Or you may use an answer file that can be created using Windows Automated Installation Kit.
Windows 7 boots noticeably faster than Windows Vista: it takes about 30 seconds. Booting has been sped up not only due to developers’ optimizations, but also due to the fact that not all services load and registry is not overloaded by all installed and remote applications. The annoying progress bars that we always saw during boot-up of all previous Microsoft operating systems have now been replaced with pretty animation:
As a result, when the first boot-up is complete, we see Windows 7 desktop that looks something like that:
By the way, this fish is part of the default desktop wallpaper for a reason. This type of fish is called in Latin “Betta spendens” or simply “Betta”.
Well, what shall we start with? Of course, with the most important thing: changing the desktop wallpaper. Click the right mouse button and notice that the menu has slightly changed:
The top part is the same, but the bottom part has two additional items instead of the traditional “Personalize”. “Screen Resolution” contains the same display settings without the color depth option, but instead with the ability to choose between portrait or landscape orientation and font size. And the window opens covering the entire screen.
“Gadgets” contains the familiar applications from the Windows Vista sidebar. Windows 7 no longer has several bars of questionable purpose, including the side bar that would open by default. The applications, however, didn’t go anywhere; you can still use them and place in any part of the screen at your convenience.
Before we open the Windows 7 “Personalization” window, let me remind you what it looks like in Windows Vista. In my humble opinion, it looks absolutely awful. In the previous Microsoft operation systems you could simply click the right mouse button on the desktop and select “Properties” menu item. It opened a small window, where you could change the display parameters on the corresponding tabs, such as: resolution and desktop background, text size and type, theme and color scheme, screensaver and power saving parameters. Who and why had to ruin this fine and convenient system – I have no idea. In Windows 7 these parameters are split into several individual groups within the “Personalization” section, so you will have to really work with your mouse in order to set up everything according to your preferences.
Moreover, in some cases certain settings were hidden too far away and turned out very difficult to find. I remember that during my first Vista experience I spent quite a bit of time trying to find out what system fonts were used. It turned out I had to go to “Window Color and Appearance”, click a barely noticeable “Open classic appearance for more color options” link (note that it all about color, but not fonts, that is why it took me so long to figure it out). Then you will see a familiar small window where you should click “Advanced” button to finally get to the sacred fonts. And I wasn’t even going to change anything; I just needed to know the name of the system font Windows Vista uses by default to display text in windows…
We are not going back to the previous settings menu in Windows 7. The idea of the “Personalization” section remained the same: it still has several sub-sections. However, “Personalization” section now looks way more logical and understandable.
Large icons in the lower row show very clearly what desktop background we have and what window color is used. You can also change the sounds and adjust the screensaver settings. You can change the theme completely by selecting one of the four ready-to-go options in the center. We immediately see what window color and background images will be used. Note that only the default theme offers one single desktop background; all others have a few choices available to you. For example, take the “Landscape” theme. Windows 7 offers you several desktop background images to choose from. You can even set a time interval for the images to switch automatically ranging from a few seconds up to 24 hours.
The list of available themes depends on the region, but you can get a few additional ones from “%windir%\Globalization\MCT” folder.
The next thing that became dramatically different in Windows 7 is the taskbar that has been nicknamed “superbar”. The changes do not seem to be that significant at first glance: he bar has become transparent, it got larger and the launched applications are now marked with an icon only without any description. It is really very convenient, more illustrative and saves some space on the bar for those who are used to opening a lot of windows at a time. The more windows and applications were open and running, the smaller grew the description field. At last there remained only a small barely distinguishable icon. Most of you may not think that the benefit from these modifications is so useful. It is not always easy to identify the applicati0on even with a larger icon. Besides, widescreen monitors get more popular, so lack of free space on the taskbar is not such an acute problem anymore. However, you can use the appropriate settings to enable text descriptions and narrow the taskbar to its common size, all this is just a few mouse clicks away. Even in this case the new taskbar will retain all other useful features that may not be very noticeable at first glance.
Have you noticed that there is no “Quick Launch” bar anymore? You can stick the application launch to the taskbar with “Pin to Taskbar” option from the context menu that opens by right clicking on the file name. Or you can simply drag and drop the link with the mouse pointer, but there will still be no Quick Launch bar. The Windows 7 taskbar has browser, file manager and media player icons by default. On the screenshot above you see the file manager launched, but its icon is not duplicated among other applications, but is highlighted with color and separated with vertical lines. You can change the order of launched applications in the taskbar by dragging the icons with a mouse.
By the way, if you right click on the application icon in the taskbar, you will get access to the additional menu called “Jump List”. The files you have been working with in this applications will all be added to this list, which will allow you to open the file you need right away making your work much more productive. Take, for example, the same “Windows Explorer” file manager. By default, this jump list contains links to documents, pictures, music and movies, and there has also appeared “Windows 7” folder where I saved screenshots.
Next time I will be able to get directly where I need in just one click. With the time this link will disappear and get replaced with the more frequently used ones. If I am going to go back to this folder every now and then, I can save the link in this list by selecting it and clicking the “Pin to this list” icon.
If you roll the mouse pointer over the icon of the running application in the taskbar, you will see a small copy of the application window. There is nothing surprising here, we have the same feature in Windows Vista. However, the micro-windows in Windows 7 do not disappear immediately when you move the pointer away. By clicking on one of these windows you can switch to the one you need from the same application windows.
However, I liked another feature of the new taskbar even more. It is the “Aero Peek” function. Say, you work in an application that covers most of the desktop. It is Notepad on the screenshot above, but it can be any other application: text editor, browser or even a media player with a movie. And this is when you urgently need to see what’s in another application window behind the current one. It actually happens pretty often: you need to see the result of some calculation, refresh your memory by looking at a picture, check the text or progress status. Back in the days we would have used a key combination or clicked on the hidden window icon and then come back. Windows 7 allows just rolling the mouse pointer over the micro-window of the hidden application.
All open windows become transparent right away and we can see the contents of the window behind the current one. We will see it even if the application has been minimized! Move the pointer away and you get back to the way your desktop looked before. Mega-convenient and super-fast!
Speaking of the taskbar I should mention the notification area on the right. In Windows Vista there appeared application icons that then disappeared later on if not used. All icons and symbols are hidden in Windows 7, and even the system application icons are of monochrome color scheme, so that they wouldn’t distract the user without reason. If there are any hidden application icons in the notification area, there will appear an arrow symbol. By clicking on this symbol you can open a small window with all the hidden icons. You can also use “Customize” option to make selected icons visible.
By the way, there is a barely noticeable rectangular button to the right of the current time and date that will minimize all windows and show desktop. You can achieve the same effect by simply moving the mouse pointer to the lower right corner of the screen. All windows will become transparent.
If you drag any application window to the top edge of the screen, it will maximize to full screen; if you drag it to the right or left side of the screen – the window will expand to the height of the screen. You can also increase the window height to its maximum by double-clicking the lower edge of this window. The easiest way to maximize the window to full size of the screen is by clicking the corresponding icon in the upper left corner or by double-clicking the window frame. By the way, some Linux window manager already has the same exact functionality implemented.
By the way, now that widescreen monitors are becoming more widely spread, we more often lack vertical free space rather than horizontal. Therefore, we suggest moving the taskbar to the right- or left-hand side of the screen. You can do the same thing in Windows Vista, however, it doesn’t look too good or too convenient. The large icons without any test descriptions look just as good if positioned vertically as they do in traditional horizontal bar. It may be a little uncommon at first, but they say you get used to it fairly quickly and cannot give it up any more.
The Start Menu has barely changed. It will have the links to the latest launched applications just as before; you can use “Pin to Start Menu” option to save them there forever, change icon size and correct the list of links on the right.
Now you don’t have to reassign the Power Off button the same way you did in Windows Vista, where it switched the system to sleep mode by default. Power Off button shuts the system down just the way it should, and the additional menu that can be opened by clicking the arrow symbol on the right allows selecting the action you need: switch user, sleep or restart.
However, there are a few modifications here, too, that will definitely improve your productivity. Look at the arrow symbols to the right of some applications that invite you to open the corresponding sub-menu:
The principle here is exactly the same as by the taskbar. We can simply open the application window or choose one of the recently opened files. The list will be updated in real time, but you can always save permanently the links to all necessary files.
We have already touched upon some parameters in the Control Panel when we talked about desktop settings, for instance. I think it is good when there are different ways of getting to the same settings: each user will do it the way that is most convenient for them. However, sometimes duplicated info may be excessive and misleading. Take, for instance, a part of the window where you can adjust the text size:
The menu on the left takes you to other related settings, such as changing screen resolution or calibrating the color gamma. And it would be really good, if “Adjust resolution” option didn’t open the same window as “Change display settings” option. Issues like this do occur from time to time, but they will most likely be eliminated by the official release date.
All Control Panel options are split into theme groups, just like in Windows Vista. For example, “System and Security”, “Network and Internet”, etc.
Some of you may like this structure; however, I couldn’t locate “Windows Defender” this way. Moreover, I personally prefer to have the full list in front of me.
Let’s take a quick look at the most interesting items that we haven’t discussed yet. The first one in this list is “Action Center” that replaced “Security Center” from Windows Vista. You may have already noticed the flag icon of this application in the notification area of the taskbar screenshots above. A red cross that may appear on the flag indicates that there are system messages available and they can be viewed by clicking on the icon.
Each line is a link. In other words, by clicking the first line you will open the browser to search for an antivirus tool; by clicking the second line – “Windows Update”; by clicking the third – “Action Center” window where you can disable different types of messages.
The menu on the left allows setting up User Account Control (UAC) parameters, but I have almost forgotten to mention it. UAC questions popped up so often in Windows Vista, especially during system installation and configuration, that most users considered it of utmost importance to disable UAC once Vista installation is complete. Windows 7 allows setting up UAC, however, I never even thought about it as the default settings were quite acceptable. Yes, sometimes you need to confirm your actions. Sometimes, but not all the time. In other words, UAC is not causing you any problems, so you don’t have to sacrifice the system security disabling it completely.
Since we came to talk about security I have to say a few words about security measures. Windows has long had “Windows Defender” that is claimed to be protecting your system against Trojans. There is also “Windows Firewall” that prevents any unauthorized access to your computer. But as for antivirus software, we have to find it ourselves. However, there is good news: new antivirus solution from Microsoft codenamed “Morro” may come out in H2 2009. So, it is quite possible that they will include this antivirus into the final Windows 7 version, which will make it even more secure.
Windows 7 supports biometrical devices, so you can use fingerprint access authorization, for instance. However, I didn’t have any at my disposal at the time of this investigation, so I can’t share any experience just yet.
The next new menu item in the Control Panel allows adjusting system fonts and antialiasing settings. “ClearType Text Tuner” wizard will display some text with different parameters and you will have to select the once that is easier to read. Very simple, convenient and useful.
“Credential Manager” allows managing your login and password information that you use to access different servers, web-sites and programs.
“Devices and Printers” section combines the functionality of three sections from Windows Vista control panel: “Add Hardware”, “Printers” and “Scanners and Cameras”.
Right mouse click displays additional information, such as: why there appeared a warning symbol on the computer image (I didn’t install the chipset driver). It also allows you to work with other settings related to the selected device.
Next innovation is called “Home Group”. This is a password protected group of home PCs within which you can exchange files safely. You are offered to create a home group right after the Windows 7 installation. Why did they do it this way? Couldn’t they just share the necessary files? They could. However, if you want to connect to a Windows Vista computer, you need an account, i.e. you need to know the user name and password. Of course, you can disable the password requirement in the settings, but it will increase the security risks. Creating “Home Group” allows you to skip the login and password part. The system automatically generates a password that needs to be entered once when you are including new computers into your home network. This makes it a lot easier to connect to a different PC and you can exchange files without any security risks to worry about.
“Sound”. What I mostly don’t like about Windows Vista, is the inconvenient sound adjustment. Analog and digital channels are separate. I could play games, listen to music and watch movies in Windows XP and the sound would go from the digital output to the amplifier and speakers. I could disable the amplifier and take a headset connected to an analogue output, when I needed to keep it quiet, and continue doing what I was doing. Since analog and digital channels are separated from, one another in Windows Vista, I don’t hear anything when I switch from one channel to another. I have to pause the game or video, make the device primary and only then the sound will in fact switch to a different channel. Sometimes it is not enough and I also have to close the application completely and then open it again to get the sound working. All this is done to protect some copyrights and prevent something unauthorized from happening, but it is all extremely inconvenient!
Things have got a little bit better in Windows 7. Besides the default sound output device, you can also set a default communications device.
If Windows detects a connection, it will automatically lower the volume or mute the primary sound device.
Some parts of the “Control Panel” options are already familiar to us, but they are singled out into individual items for additional convenience. For example, “Notification Area Icons” or “RemoteApp and Desktop Connections”. At the same time, I believe that they will continue working on “Control Panel” functionality. As we see, “Backup and Restore” partially overlaps with “Recovery”, and “Notification Area Icons” – with “System Icons”.
I have to apologize to you right away if you get disappointed with this part of our article. I am working in Microsoft operating systems all the time, however, prefer to use third-party programs instead of the traditional Windows bundle. I found that third-party applications are usually more functional and convenient to work with. Therefore, I am afraid I won’t be able to really value the new advantages “Paint” or “WordPad” got in Windows 7. Anyway, even my experience was enough to notice that the programs interface changed. Now everything looks like Microsoft Office 2007:
Even a quick look at the program list is enough to see that Windows 7 doesn’t have “Windows Calendar”, “Windows Contact”, “Windows Live Messenger”, “Windows Mail”, “Windows Meeting Space” and “Windows Movie Maker”. Not bad! They won’t take free space on installation discs and hard drives anymore. However, you may think otherwise. In this case, download Windows Live Essentials and you get the whole package plus a few extras with it.
Actually, there is one program in Windows that I have been using on a regular basis and where I noticed significant improvements. It is the calculator. It has now become more functional:
Now we can monitor all our actions:
Moreover, we can display the entire calculations history if we need to go back to one of the previous steps:
Of course, calculator is not the only thing that got modified. You can see a lot of big and small improvements everywhere. Take, for instance, “Windows Firewall”. Windows 7, just like Windows XP or Vista, offers us only base options by default, such as: enable, disable, modify the list of applications that can access the Internet. Now, however, you can open advanced settings, configure incoming and outgoing connections just like in many programs of the same type.
Or take “Windows Explorer”. Although I don’t use it as a file manager, it seems to look considerably better even to me:
Speaking of “Windows Explorer” I can’t help mentioning one more innovation: “Libraries”. These are virtual folders that can combine a few actual folders. One day someone in Microsoft decided that one should store music in “My Music” folder, pictures – in “My Pictures” folder, movies – in “My Videos” folder and all these folders should be in “Documents” or in user’s personal folder. Nonsense! My folders are named differently and located in different places, so I have never actually used the standard ones. Windows 7 has four default libraries: documents, music, picture and videos, but you are not limited to this number or location. You may create as many libraries as you want and add to them a bunch of different folders located in different places:
Now it is really convenient: no matter where the files are, they will all be available to you in one place within the selected library. Theoretically, you can also add filed from the network drives, but I couldn’t accomplish that. Remember, Windows 7 is still a beta.
When I was working on this article I was not sure if this section was necessary at this time. How fair would a test session in a beta version of the operating system actually be? I have come across some comparisons where Windows 7 was faster than Windows Vista as well as Windows XP, so I was really curious to see if that was in fact the case. However, while we can and should test in Windows Vista and XP, the results obtained in Windows 7 are all preliminary and more of a preview type. This OS is still far from being finalized: some services are non-operational, some functions will still be added, some will be deleted or modified. By the time the operating system is ready to launch, its actual performance may be faster or slower than what we will obtain today. Nevertheless, the obtained results turned out very interesting, so I decided to share them with you, though I encourage you to remember that they are far from being final.
Here is our test platform:
The system worked in nominal mode. The CPU worked at nominal 333MHz bus frequency with x7.5 multiplier. The memory worked at 1067MHz frequency with 7-7-7-20-2T timings. The graphics card also worked at its nominal speeds: 750MHz chip and 3600MHz GDDR5 memory frequency. We used ATI Catalyst 8.12 driver. We compared the results obtained in 32-bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 and Microsoft Windows 7 Beta.
The utilized test applications included not only synthetic utilities, but also practical tasks from different fields. I have to say that after two weeks with Windows 7 Beta I didn’t have any problems with this OS, however, I had to give up a few benchmarks because of compatibility or other issues that surfaced during the test session. Among these benchmarks are BAPCo SYSmark 2007, Custom PC Benchmarks Suite 2007, PCMark Vantage and Crysis Warhead (the game runs just fine, but the performance measuring utility doesn’t). As a result, here is the complete list of tests that we performed:
Moreover, we used performance tests built into Microsoft Windows Vista and Microsoft Windows 7 Beta. Of course, we didn’t use the relative scores in points, but the actual numbers. For example, no matter how fast the RAM is in Windows 7, it will never score more than 5.5 points if its capacity is less than 3GB. At the same time, when we test the memory subsystem performance, we measure its real bandwidth in MB/s, which we are going to use for further analysis. Windows 7 Beta has a completely new set of performance benchmarks for the graphics subsystem, while all other results should be pretty comparable. Here are the tests we used:
We ran each test three times, discarded the peaks, calculated the average mean and then marked the best score with bold font in the table below:
Although Windows 7 Beta loses to its opponent in most of the tests, it is not the time to be upset. We have already named the main reason: the performance score of the final version may still be dramatically different from that of the current beta version. Moreover, the performance difference is often very small and falls within the measuring error and a few more serious discrepancies may still be written off as the results obtained on a beta version. And how could it be otherwise if we compared two identical systems that differed only by the OS versions, which have a lot in common. However, there are a lot of examples, when much more significant differences do not affect the performance results. We can change memory frequency and timings, however, it will remain unnoticed if the test is not sensitive to these parameters. We can overclock the CPU, but the gaming performance will not change if we have a weak graphics card. And graphics card overclocking will not speed up processor-dependent calculations. So, the performance difference in these tests simply has to be small, considering that these systems are identical.
Moreover, I won’t be upset even if the performance of the final Windows 7 version will be lower than that of Windows Vista. It is quite possible if the new OS acquires a lot of new functions and options. So what? Tomorrow I will upgrade my RAM, replace the CPU with a faster one, overclock the system and in the end make up for the “lost” performance. However, I will have a much more user friendly, responsive, secure and reliable operating system.
Taking into account insignificant differences between Microsoft Windows 7 Beta and the previous version 6956 of this OS, we could have written this article in the end of last year. However, version 6956 remained operational on my system only for a week and then I had to remove it because of continuous error messages. I decided to check how operational Windows 7 Beta is by installing it onto my work computer, despite Microsoft’s warnings. It worked just fine for over two weeks almost without any problems. Of course, this is way too short of a period to be able to estimate the OS reliability, but the only reason why I went back to Windows Vista SP1 is for the sake of comparison. Now that the review is done I am going to continue my experience with Windows 7 Beta.
In the beginning I said that my attitude to Windows Vista is quite neutral, and this is true. There is no operating system equivalent to Microsoft Windows in functionality in the market today, so we don’t really have much of a choice. But as for Windows 7, I really like it, I enjoy working with it. From my subjective standpoint, it has become much more convenient and faster to work in Windows 7 than it used to be in Windows Vista.
I am not trying to convince you in favor of the new OS, but since you have the opportunity to download and check out the new operating system on your own, why not do so? The system is fully functional and is quite reliable, according to preliminary data. The only serious issue I have experienced is corruption of MP3 files by the media player. However, there is an update fixing that already. “Send Feedback” link in each window header may be a bit annoying, but you can get rid of it by replacing FeedbackToolEnabled parameter to 0 in HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop\. You will anyway be able to send your feedback to Microsoft if you want to via the “Feedback” option in “Control Panel”.
When you register on Microsoft’s web-site you will receive a test key. However, you can skip the registration part if you clear the trial period day counter by using “smlgr –rearm” command as administrator. They say you can clear it 5 times instead of 3 (in Vista).
The system will be functional until August 1, 2009. However, I hope that we will be able to replace Microsoft Windows 7 Beta with Microsoft Windows 7 Release Candidate long before that.