Windows 7 Post-Beta Leaks - Why You Should Care

If you're a BitTorrent user you might have noticed that another Windows 7 post-beta build (7048) has been circulating in the wild for curious downloaders. (See this ComputerWorld article for more.) Reports are that it's stable but not likely to be the release candidate (RC) Microsoft promised would come next.  Whenever I see these downloads of new Windows 7 unofficial revs I always wonder, first, are they legit (is it really code from Microsoft or software that been jiggered with) and second, is Microsoft leaking the software or is this from insiders. I don't want to go all "conspiracy theory" on you here but you've got to believe Microsoft puts markers in their internal builds so as to be able to track down leaks of unreleased and proprietary materials. If Microsoft isn't releasing these builds through some unofficial "back door", then how do they get out? That only leaves employees, contractors, consultants or selected customers who might have access to new unreleased code.

Other than the fact these builds make it out into the wild every once in a while, should you even care about unofficial software builds? In terms of using them yourself, no, it's probably a pretty bad idea to turn your everyday machine into an experimental territory. If you're super curious, it might be worth looking at on a test machine, but then again, who has the time to do that (not me anyway.)

Researchers and competitors are obvious candidates to take the time to explore unofficial builds but those aren't the people I'm particularly worried about (though Microsoft likely is).

My biggest concerns are security related. Leaked software gives the bad guys a head start working on ways to exploit new code. Maybe Microsoft is aware of these issues and will fix known security flaws before the product ships but then again maybe not. Microsoft likely won't know about every security exploit. With new code comes new vulnerabilities. It just works that way.

The numbers the ComputerWorld article sited were downloads of around 21k (or 10k, depending on how you want to interpret the numbers in the article) for the Windows 7 post-beta 7048 build. That's quite sizable and shows a healthy appetite for even unofficial code.  But I wouldn't be too trusting of any unofficial software builds. You don't know the real source, and you may just subject yourself to getting compromised due to security vulnerabilities not yet addressed in the code.

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