While I have been working with Microsoft Windows 7 for quite some time now, I downloaded the Windows 7 Release Candidate on May 5, 2009, just to experience the procedure. While I was an early bird downloader (I actually began my download at 11:45 p.m. on May 4 and let the download progress as I slept), the download went off without a hitch, and from what I’ve heard so far, there hasn’t been a repeat of the crash that took down the Windows 7 Beta download servers in January. The installation also went very smoothly, and this RC version of the operating system is amazingly responsive and very stable.

In this edition of the Windows Vista and Windows 7 Report, I’ll present you with a brief Windows 7 RC FAQ combined with some of my initial experiences. In the coming weeks, I’ll continue to focus on various aspects of the RC version of the operating system.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a free TechRepublic download.

What are the hardware requirements?

Actually, the hardware requirements for Windows 7 RC are relatively mild. I suppose that’s because Windows Vista has been out for over two years and we’ve all had time to get used to the idea of advanced hardware requirements from an operating system combined with the fact that hardware that was once deemed as a steep-and-expensive increase has become commonplace.

In any case, the minimum system requirements you’ll need for Windows 7 include:

  • DVD burner/drive
  • 1 GHz or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
  • 1 GB RAM (32-bit) / 2 GB RAM (64-bit)
  • 16 GB available disk space (32-bit) / 20 GB (64-bit)
  • DirectX 9 graphics processor with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver

My test system, on which I installed the 32-bit version, has a DVD burner, AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ processor, 1 GB RAM, an NVIDIA GeForce 6100 nForce 405 onboard video, and plenty of disk space. (For this particular test system, I installed an additional SATA hard disk, switched the cables, and installed Windows 7 RC on it. When I need to switch back to Vista, I just shut down and switch the cables. While it may sound like a crude mechanism, it is relatively quick to make the switch due to the SATA connectors, and I can reformat and reinstall at will without having to worry about dismantling my Vista test configuration.)

Can anyone get in on the release candidate program?

In days gone by, you had to be signed up/registered in the testing program in order to take part in release candidate testing, but not with Windows 7 RC. In fact, Microsoft is treating the RC like shareware. Anyone can download it for free and use it for a limited time before actually purchasing it. However, instead of a 30-, 60-, or 90-day trial, Microsoft is giving you 300 days. On March 1, 2010, the RC will start shutting down every two hours and will completely stop working on June 1, 2010.

To get your free copy, just go to the Windows 7 Release Candidate Download page and follow the instructions. The RC will be available for download at least through July 2009, and Microsoft is not limiting the number of product keys.

What’s new in this version?

The short answer is plenty! If you’ve been following my blogs over the past few months, you already have an overview of many of the new features, such as a new Taskbar, Jump Lists, Aero Snap, Aero Peek, Problem Steps Recorder, file system Libraries, User Account Control Settings, and enhancements to Task Manager and Resource Monitor just to name a few. At this point, Windows 7 RC is said to be feature-complete, which means that everything that was planned is now in the operating system

One of the hottest new features being introduced as an add-on with the RC version is XP Mode, which will allow you to run older apps that work fine in XP but are incompatible with 7 in a virtual environment. XP Mode is based on Microsoft’s Virtual PC and runs Windows XP SP3 in a virtual machine. Keep in mind that XP Mode is available only with Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise editions and requires that your CPU support hardware virtualization.

Other new features being introduced with the RC include BitLocker To Go, which extends the BitLocker drive encryption feature to USB removable drives. Another new security feature aimed at removable drives is actually something that Microsoft removed from the operating system — AutoRun. When you connect a removable drive, malware will no longer be able to piggyback off of AutoRun to launch its attack.

While not as crucial as some of the other features in the operating system, you’ll now find a plethora of new multimedia-based features, new sound schemes, new themes, and new desktop wallpapers, including a picture shuffle that changes your wallpaper every 30 minutes. And there’s much, much more…

Where can I learn more?

Of course, I’ll be covering Windows 7 RC in more detail in upcoming blogs, so you learn more right here at TechRepublic. You should also frequent Microsoft’s Windows 7 page and sign up for the Windows Vista and Windows 7 Report newsletter.

What’s your take?

Have you downloaded and installed Windows 7 RC? If so, what is your impression? If you haven’t done so yet, are you planning on downloading and installing Windows 7 RC? As always, if you have comments or information to share, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

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