With Windows 7 barreling towards an October 22, 2009 general availability date, Microsoft has begun leaking details about how and when it will actually deliver the OS to its various customers. And it's also revealed, finally, what Windows 7 will cost. But you won't have to wait for October 22 to get Windows 7. Here's what you need to know about Windows 7 availability and pricing.

When You Can Get Windows 7
Although Microsoft originally said it wouldn’t ship Windows 7 in a staggered fashion as it did with Windows Vista, I'd long envisioned a "rolling thunder"-type release schedule with different customers receiving Windows 7 on different dates, over a period of months.

That’s indeed what's happening. Here are the relevant milestones in the Windows 7 release schedule:

RTM: July 22, 2009. Windows 7 is released to manufacturing, though it’s a certainty that Microsoft will issue hotfixes between this date and the date on which the OS is generally available.
OEM partner deliver: July 24. PC makers and other partners receive Windows 7.
Evaluation version: early August. A 30-day evaluation version of Windows 7 Professional is released to the public via Microsoft's Springboard website.
MSDN and TechNet release: August 6. Subscribers gain access to the final, shipping version of Windows 7.
Software Assurance (English): August 7. Volume license customers with an existing Software Assurance (SA) license receive download access via the Volume License Service Center (VLSC).
Microsoft Partner Program Gold/Certified member (English): August 16. Gold and Certified partners get download access.
Microsoft Action Pack (English): August 23. Subscribers can download Windows 7 RTM.
Software Assurance (SA) (other languages): August 23. Volume license customers with an existing SA license can download Windows 7 RTM in other languages via the VLSC.
Non-SA volume license: September 1. Volume license customers without the SA license can purchase Windows 7 through Volume Licensing.
Microsoft Partner Program Gold/Certified member (other languages): October 1. Gold and Certified partners can download Windows 7 RTM in other languages.
Microsoft Action Pack (other languages): October 1. Subscribers can download Windows 7 RTM in other languages.
MSDN and TechNet (other languages): October 1. Subscribers can download Windows 7 RTM in other languages.
General Availability: October 22. Windows 7 is available via retail stores, online, and with new PC purchases. While PC makers begin shipping PCs in all of the 35 available languages, retail versions of Windows 7 are available on this date in English, Spanish, Japanese, German, French, Italian, Dutch, Russian, Polish, Brazilian Portuguese, Korean, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, and Chinese (Hong Kong).

On October 29, Microsoft delivers the remaining Windows 7 language versions—Turkish, Czech, Portuguese, Hungarian, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, Greek, Ukrainian, Romanian Arabic, Lithuanian, Bulgarian, Estonian, Slovenian, Hebrew, Thai, Croatian, Serbian Latin, and Latvian—worldwide, at retail.

What Windows 7 Will Cost You
You will be able to purchase individual copies of Windows 7 at retail and via the online Microsoft Store. Windows 7 is available in Full and Upgrade versions and in special Windows Anytime Upgrade (WAU) packages that let you upgrade from one retail version of Windows 7 to another. (You can’t "downgrade" of course.)

Pricing for Windows 7 is nearly identical to that of Vista. In a nod to multi-PC households, Microsoft finally offers a three-PC Family Pack for $150; this version includes three product keys for Windows 7 Home Premium Upgrade and represents a significant savings. Table 1 shows estimated retail pricing for the Windows 7 Full versions and Windows 7 Upgrade versions. Table 2 shows estimated retail pricing for the Windows 7 Windows Anytime Upgrade versions.

No More E Editions
Spurred by European Union (EU) regulators, Microsoft has canceled plans for the special, browser-less Windows 7 E Editions and will deliver the normal Windows 7 lineup in Europe this fall. Microsoft has promised to deliver a so-called browser "ballot box" to let customers choose between its Internet Explorer and competing web browsers. It will deliver the interface by early 2010 if the EU accepts it.

Recommendations
Microsoft hasn't done a great job of communicating how it will deliver Windows 7, but based on the milestones I noted, you can gain access to this upgrade well in advance of the general availability date of October 22. My advice is to test and deploy Windows 7 as soon as possible.

It’s safer and more modern than Windows XP and offers better performance and usability than Vista. This is the most compelling version of Windows ever produced, and it will be an excellent computing platform for years to come.