Microsoft launched its Windows 7 Release Candidate late on May 4, months before the final rollout of its next-generation operating system.
The Release Candidate features several small tweaks over the beta version, particularly in the areas of security and tuning. Microsoft has been pushing Windows 7 particularly hard through a variety of push marketing, end-user and partner outreach strategies, in a bid to make the operating system a success. Its last OS release, Vista, is widely regarded as something of a misfire.
Microsoft also has a lot riding on the project, especially in the face of dismal quarterly results and a global economic downturn dragging on its traditionally sturdy revenue stream. For the fiscal third quarter ended March 31, the company reported a 6.5 percent year-over-year decrease in revenues, to $13.65 billion, with net income of $2.98 billion; it marked the Redmond giant's first-ever quarterly revenue decline.
Microsoft will utilize users' experiences with the Release Candidate to further refine the operating system before its final release, likely late in 2009. The company will not be offering technical support in conjunction with the download, but a corporate Website lists certain late-breaking issues and information about potential problems, notably with AppLocker and Internet Explorer 8.
On the Microsoft TechNet Website, the company made several key points about the release. First, Windows 7 RC will be available "at least through June 2009," and expire on June 1, 2010. However, beginning on March 1, 2010, the user's PC will begin shutting down every two hours unless a non-expired version of Windows is installed before that date.
"Be sure to back up your data," the Microsoft TechNet site also warns, "and please don't test Windows 7 RC on your primary home or business PC."
The Release Candidate will be available in English, German, Japanese, French and Spanish, and will not be available in Hindi or Arabic. Microsoft included a link to a "Things to Know" page here.
In addition to the Internet access needed to download Windows 7 RC, Microsoft says that systems running the OS will need a 1 GHz 32-bit or 64-bit processor (or higher), at least 1 GB of system memory, 16 GB of available disk space, support for DirectX 9 graphics with 128 MB, and a DVD-R/W drive. Additional hardware may be needed for features such as watching live TV or "touch" navigation.