It's been possibly the worst-kept secret in the history of Microsoft. But now, finally, the software giant is admitting what we've known all along: It will deliver Windows 7 in 2009, not 2010 (as it has long claimed), and it will do so in time for the 2009 holiday season.

"A holiday release is accomplishable," Microsoft Senior Vice President Bill Veghte said Monday. It is the first public statement from a Microsoft executive that contradicts long-standing company policy to promise only that it would deliver Windows 7 roughly three years after its predecessor, Windows Vista. That OS shipped to the public in January 2007, so Vegas odds-makers have been targeting January 2010 as the expected release date.

Before all this happens, of course, Microsoft must deliver its final pre-release milestone—the Windows 7 release candidate (RC)—to testers, developers, and others interested in providing last-minute feedback. According to Microsoft, the RC build, which was completed last week, is feature-complete and representative of the final product.

Again, my expectation is that Microsoft will finalize Windows in late July or August and begin selling it to customers in September.