Microsoft springs public Windows 7 RC early

Starts serving RC before midnight Monday; servers remain standing (so far)

Microsoft Corp. launched Windows 7 Release Candidate (RC) to the public earlier than expected, posting the download Monday before midnight Eastern time.

Computerworld was able to obtain keys to both the 32- and 64-bit versions of the preview, and download the disk image (.iso) files from the Windows 7 page starting this morning at 2:30 Eastern.

Unlike in January, when Microsoft's servers were overwhelmed by a rush of users eager to grab the beta, today's downloads went smoothly, although some pages, including those that led to the activation keys, rendered slowly.

"Downloading the Windows 7 RC could take a few hours," Microsoft noted on the download page.

The company also posted instructions for downloading, creating an installation DVD, and installing the RC, as well as a FAQ with answers to questions such as "How long can I test Windows 7?" (until June 1, 2010) and "Will I get a free copy of Windows 7 once it's released for volunteering to test the Windows 7 RC?" (no).

Windows 7 RC can also be downloaded from Microsoft's TechNet site.

Two weeks ago, Microsoft announced that it would offer Windows 7 RC to the general public May 5. Last week, it offered the RC to subscribers of the for-pay MSDN and TechNet services; after several hours of problems that took the services' download sites offline, Microsoft restored access later in the day.

In other changes, Microsoft will not limit the number of copies users can download -- one reason why users flooded servers for January's beta -- and it will offer the RC download for several months, until at least through July. "You have plenty of time," Microsoft said.

Release notes for Windows 7 RC, which include late-breaking information and cautions about the preview, can be found on the TechNet site.

One component not immediately available was the highly touted XP Mode, a 450MB add-on that creates an XP virtual environment running under Virtual PC within Windows 7, for easier access to incompatible XP applications. However, XP Mode was posted to the company's main download center and to a page dedicated to Virtual PC later this morning.

For more information about the RC, check out Computerworld's "FAQ: How to get Windows 7RC."

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