Today Microsoft Corp. has reached a significant milestone with the Release Candidate (RC) of the highly anticipated Windows 7 operating system, now available for download to MSDN and TechNet subscribers at http://technet.microsoft.com. Broader public availability will begin May 5 on the Microsoft Download Center at http://microsoft.com/downloads.
As for what’s new, Microsoft did reveal a virtual Windows XP mode to apparently alleviate lingering Vista compatibility problems presumably for business users (e.g. ):
Utilizing Windows Virtual PC, Windows XP Mode allows Windows 7 users to run many Windows XP productivity applications, launched right from the Windows 7 desktop. Windows XP Mode will be available to Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate customers via download or, for the best experience, pre-installed directly on new PCs. As part of today’s announcement, Microsoft is releasing the beta of Windows XP Mode and Windows Virtual PC.
Windows 7 Enterprise users also get XP mode as part of a broader management package. Note that the Windows XP mode seems to be lagging the rest of Windows 7 as it is only labeled a beta.
So if there are no show stoppers discovered in the release candidate, when will Windows 7 be released? Microsoft isn’t saying, but there are lots of signs and portents like the following:
Although Microsoft Corp. refuses to name a delivery date for Windows 7, it could launch the new operating system as early as August, according to timeline comparisons of significant dates for Windows XP and Windows Vista.
Acer has confirmed that Windows 7 will be available pre-loaded on their new all-in-one Z5600 PC from the 23 October 2009, not by the end of January 2010 as Microsoft has been previously suggesting.
Acer also confirmed to us that any Vista-based models purchased in the 30 days prior to this date will be eligible for Microsoft’s free upgrade programme.
It looks like Microsoft will actually hit the Christmas shopping season.
Finally, while the general expectation is that Windows 7 will finally be the replacement for Windows XP that Vista wasn’t, Microsoft is apparently allowing OEMs more time to offer Windows XP as a downgrade although it isn’t clear whether this applies to Windows 7 as well as Vista. More ominously for the severely limited Windows 7 Starter Edition, Microsoft is allowing netbook manufacturers to install Windows XP for a full year after general availability of Windows 7.