It has been a real boon for support pros that Microsoft has given us a chance to try out the next version of Windows before it is released to the market. Now that a firm launch date has been announced, your days to participate are numbered.


As a support pro, I’d like to offer kudos to Microsoft on their decision to publicly release a free evaluation version of Windows 7. I hope that what we’ve seen during this development process will become the standard for future OS releases from the company. A public Release Candidate isn’t just a good marketing tactic, it’s a great way to make sure that techs are familiar with your product from day one of its official release. I know that my experience with the Release Candidate of Windows 7 will make me more confident when I am asked to support it for customers.

If you haven’t had the chance to download the free Windows 7 installation package, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity. Microsoft has announced that the disk image of the Release Candidate will be available only until August 20. Product keys for new installations will still be distributed after that date, so there is still plenty of time to put Windows 7 through its paces before it hits store shelves on October 22. Make sure you’re not left behind and go get the software already!

Whether you are only just getting started with the RC or you have been running it since the beginning, there are a few things you should bear in mind:

The Release Candidate is time-limited.

On March 10, 2010, any computer with the RC installed will begin shutting down every two hours. On June 1, that computer will not start up at all. So, have a migration plan in mind for your evaluation machine as the expiration date approaches.

Windows 7 is still beta software.

Don’t rely on it for critical tasks. Consider using a dedicated PC for your tests, and if that is not possible you should install Windows 7 to a separate partition or a virtual machine.

Plan on performing a clean install after the evaluation.

Hopefully you didn’t install the Release Candidate on a production machine, because upgrading the software is not recommended. Back up any data you need to keep from your test system, block out the time, and go ahead with erasing your disk before installing whatever OS you are going to use going forward.

It’s not always the case that we can get a leg up on support issues by testing products before they are in customers’ hands. I highly recommend that if you have not started your hands-on education, you should download the Windows 7 Release Candidate while you still can.