Microsoft said on Friday a version of its long awaited Windows 7 operating system will be made available from next week.
The version, known as a 'release candidate', or RC, essentially means the world's largest software company is in the final stages of completing the operating system, the successor to the unpopular Windows Vista.
Microsoft said the RC will be available for download by program developers and IT professionals subscribing to the MSDN and TechNet networks on April 30 and available more broadly on May 5.
The company has still not said when the finished version would begin to be installed on PCs or available to buy in shops, but the company's chief financial officer said on Thursday it could be as early as July.
That would allow Microsoft to capitalize on back-to-school sales and set it up for a strong holiday shopping season.
Microsoft's operating systems, installed on the vast majority of the world's PCs, are still the backbone of the company, providing more than half of its $4.4 billion profit last quarter.
Vista, launched to the public in 2007, was incompatible with some low-power machines and perceived by many to be too complicated. Rival Apple ridiculed Microsoft's problems with the system in a series of popular TV ads.
Windows 7, which has been getting good reviews in limited public tests over the last few months, is much cleaner looking and features an array of new touch-screen functions. Microsoft says it will also interact better with digital cameras and music players.