Windows 7 RC Free Download Starts Tuesday

A nearly final version of Microsoft's next OS will be available from the company's Web site beginning May 5.
Consumers who want to be the first on their block to try Microsoft's new Windows 7 operating system can get their hands on a free copy of a nearly final version of the OS as soon as Tuesday.

Windows 7 screen shot
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That's when Microsoft plans to make Windows 7 "Release Candidate" available to the general public. Last week, the company began offering Windows 7 RC to professional users who belong to its TechNet and MSDN communities.

Windows 7 RC contains most of the features that will be included in the final version of the OS, and it's been tested for compatibility with hardware and software from most major vendors through a months-long beta program. Still, Microsoft typically warns computer users not to use prerelease software for critical tasks or in business production environments.

Windows 7 RC will function until June 1, 2010. After that, users will need to upgrade to a full, paid version of the operating system.

If Microsoft is following a timetable similar to that employed for Vista development, then it's highly possible that the company is eyeing a September release date for Windows 7.

The first version of Windows Vista RC dropped in September 2006, about five months before the final version shipped. A similar five-month incubation period for Windows 7 RC would point to a commercial release in September -- possibly in time for the critical back-to-school shopping season.

Microsoft's official position remains that Windows 7 will drop about three years from the time Vista debuted. The company launched Vista in January 2007.

Microsoft is counting on Windows 7 to help it recover from the Vista flop. Vista failed to catch on with mainstream computer users and businesses have shunned it outright. Many users have complained about Vista's hardware requirements, intrusive security measures, and lack of compatibility with older applications. Windows 7 is said to be lighter and easier to use than its predecessor.

Microsoft last month reported that Windows sales fell 16% in the most recent quarter.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on Windows 7. Download the report here (registration required).

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