The near-final version of Microsoft's next operating system, Windows 7, has become available to the general public.
Microsoft will collect feedback on the Windows 7 release candidate over the next few months, fixing small issues. The company allowed developers and other testers to begin downloading the release candidate last week.
Windows 7 comes nearly three years after Windows Vista, which took five years for Microsoft to engineer but was regarded by some as underwhelming. Microsoft hasn't said when the final Windows 7 version will be released, although it's rumoured to be out before year's end.
Microsoft warned that it is not offering technical support for the Windows 7 release candidate, so those who install it are on their own. Users should be familiar with installing an operating system from scratch, formatting a hard drive and backing up data, among other skills, Microsoft advised.
In the Windows 7 release notes, Microsoft warns of several problems that haven't been resolved, including issues with its latest Web browser, Internet Explorer 8 (IE8).
Microsoft released the Windows 7 beta in Arabic and Hindi, but those languages have been replaced with French and Spanish in the release candidate. English is available for both versions.
"We needed to ensure certain features were tested for worldwide functionality, and Hindi and Arabic help us test a number of language-related features," Microsoft said.
The Windows 7 release candidate will only work for so long. It is due to expire on June 1, 2010. Three months prior, the release candidate will automatically shut down a person's computer after two hours.
The Window 7 beta expires on Aug. 1, and computers with that version will begin shutting themselves down after two hours beginning July 1.
Microsoft said that Windows Vista users will not need to reinstall their applications after upgrading to the Windows 7 release candidate. The company does, however, recommend backing up data as a precaution. Vista users will have to do a clean install, however, to go from the Windows 7 release candidate to the final version.
Windows XP users should back up their data and do a clean install of the Windows 7 release candidate.
To run the 32-bit version of the release candidate, a computer should have a 1 GHz or faster processor, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of hard disk space and a DirectX 9 graphics processor with WDDM (Windows Display Driver Model) 1.0 or higher driver.
For the 64-bit version, Microsoft recommends a 1 GHz or faster processor, 2GB of RAM, 20GB of hard disk space and a DirectX 9 graphics processor with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver.