Microsoft will make a Windows 7 release candidate available to MSDN and TechNet subscribers on April 30. The software will be generally available on May 5. For those currently running Beta 1, the transition will be somewhat arduous but hopefully rewarding. The near-final build sports many changes, the majority of them spit and polish, from the beta released in early January.
1. This is it. Microsoft doesn't plan on there being a second release candidate, which expresses the company's confidence in the build quality. Windows 7 RC is feature-complete, and that includes planned user interface changes.
2. What you test isn't necessarily what you get. Microsoft is distributing Windows 7 Ultimate. Most consumers will get Windows 7 Home Premium preinstalled on new PCs. Small businesses can expect Professional and larger operations buying into Software Assurance will get Enterprise. That means some of the features available in the release candidate won't be in the version many users eventually will get.
3. Beta 1 testers must start over. Microsoft strongly, and rightly, recommends that people running Windows 7 Beta 1 start over from Windows Vista. That means installing a fresh copy of Windows Vista Service Pack 1 and then upgrading to the release candidate. Warning: If subsequent Vista updates aren't installed before the Windows 7 upgrade, the installer will get them during the upgrade-slowing the process.
4. It's production-ready. Based on the first 24 hours of use, Windows 7 RC is good enough for enterprises to deploy in production for testing. Such an approach is highly recommended, particularly for testing new security features, such as AppLocker or BitLocker To Go.
5. Windows XP upgrade isn't supported. From a licensing perspective, businesses and consumers will be able to upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7. Logistically, they can't. Windows 7 won't install over Windows XP. The software must be installed clean, or over Vista, and data and settings migrated from XP.
6. Windows XP Mode is not included. Microsoft plans to release XPM, which runs virtualized Windows XP for application compatibility purposes, later as a beta. XPM isn't expected to ship with Windows 7, but likely will be available later for download. XPM can be applied to Enterprise, Professional and Ultimate versions.
7. Windows 7 is the most usable Windows ever. The Windows 7 UI sports many new task-oriented features, such as Aero Peak, Jumplists and the new Taskbar. End users can reorganize open applications and pin them to the Taskbar. Applications cannot pin themselves, which deters the kind of icon clutter common to the desktop. Apple lets applications pin themselves to the Mac OS X Dock; Microsoft's approach makes the UI cleaner.
8. Forget Windows Vista. Windows 7 outperforms its predecessor by most every measure. Boot-up and resume times are quite speedy compared with Vista. Application switching is smoother and faster, too. Wireless connections are faster, applications launch quickly and security features protect with much less nagging.
9. Pricing is uncertain. Microsoft hasn't announced pricing for Windows 7. Businesses opting for the Enterprise edition will need Software Assurance. It's reasonable to expect Home Premium and Professional editions to be priced comparably to Vista Home Premium or Enterprise. Starter is new to North America and many other geographies; pricing should be much lower than Home Premium. Microsoft will continue distributing a Home Basic version, but only in select geographies.
10. Seven is simply beautiful and sounds lovely. The provided Aero Themes, desktop backgrounds and user control over translucency don't just allow for personalization. Other Windows versions have had garish personalization. Windows 7 creates a pleasant working environment, and the UI looks better the higher the screen resolution. The 13 new audio themes sound delightful.