Update: Check outour in-depth look atHow to get your copy of the Windows 7 RC today
Microsoft has shown its confidence in Windows 7 by announcing that the Release Candidate (RC) will be made available to the general public for a year from 5 May.
The Windows 7 beta has been a huge success for Microsoft, which has been buoyed by the positive feedback to one of its most critical ever releases.
Now, people will be able to effectively trial the new OS for a year before deciding if they want to buy the retail version, with Microsoft confirming that the RC will be readily and freely available to all until June 2010.
A big deal for Microsoft
"It's a big deal for us, Microsoft's Windows OEM Product Manager Laurence Painell told TechRadar.
"Obviously, we are releasing what we feel could be the final version - what we will put out to manufacturers and even wider availability when we release the product to consumers."
"The release candidate is available for everyone. From 30 April it will be available to our IT professionals through MSDN and TechNET, we let them get it in advance.
"Then it will go up on windows.com/download for everybody. There is no limit to the availability and it will be available on 5 May. It will run until 5 June 2010."
Beyond the commercial launch
The lengthy RC availability means that people will be able to try out a full version of Windows 7 well beyond its production version release date, but Microsoft's launch has not been delayed, insists Painell.
"Our official line is that [the production version] will be available no later than January 2010 and we will stick to that, but people will still be able to use the release candidate for nothing until June 2010."
Microsoft's confidence in Windows 7 is such that the prospect of people trying for nothing and, potentially, deciding against the OS, does not phase the company in the slightest.
"There has been a great deal of feedback and a huge amount of it positive through the beta program," adds Painell.
"Obviously the beta program was the widest that we've ever run and the overwhelming response has been positive.
"We're obviously very excited internally about the quality of the product and that's been one of the overwhelming things internally."
Driver support lesson learned
One of the major failings of Windows 7's predecessor Windows Vista was a failure to support thousands of third-party devices when it arrived back in January 2007.
Painell pointed out that Windows 7 should not suffer from the same kind of problems, with the 'eco system' of third-party manufacturers and developers all deeply involved in making sure that consumers should quickly get their attached devices up and running quickly with the correct drivers.
"From an ecosystem perspective, which is obviously imperative, we've had about 32,000 participants from 10,000 different partners – which has been split 50/50 between hardware and software vendors.
"That's obviously a big part of what we need to do to make sure we have a successful launch. We're making sure that the companies that are providing software and hardware that supports Windows are ready for it as well.
"I think that 2.8 million devices have been reported as compatible during the beta program but 75 per cent of those are available in the box for the RC and 90 per cent are available either in the box, from a Microsoft update or through links through to different partner vendor websites."
You can download Windows 7 Release Candidate from 5 May from http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/. Normal provisos are in place about needing a clean install and to make sure all data is backed up on the PC you are putting the OS on to.
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