If you haven't figured it out by now, Microsoft has two release dates for Windows 7: early 2010 according to its corporate PR stooges and sometime around mid 2009 according to everyone else. The reason for the padding is a fairly transparent attempt to avoid the public opinion fiasco resulting from Vista's chronic delays. Now Ina Fried over at CNET has it from Microsoft Director, Doug Howe, that Windows 7 should be ready for general consumption by the 2009 holidays. According to Fried, Howe's WinHEC presentation covering Microsoft's Velocity program to improve PC quality seemed to imply a mid-year Win7 launch. Apparently, a slide said that the Vista Velocity program would run through next spring and then continue on with Windows 7. Afterward, in an apparent direct response to the launch date question, Howe told Fried, "Definitely the holiday focus is going to be on 7." Using the Vista launch as a guide, that would put the new OS in the hands of OEMs and big business IT staff by mid-year, about 3-months before consumers if Vista's timeline holds true. This also aligns nicely with Microsoft's stated plan to launch the public beta early next year followed by a hinted, single release candidate prior to release for manufacturing. So go ahead, just make it official already Microsoft. You had us at pre-Beta.