Leaked on the official Windows Blog earlier in the week, and now officially official in a press statement from Microsoft, Windows 7 has now gone from humble beta status to Release Candidate 1.
So, what are the key facts you need to know? Pocket-lint sat down with Microsoft to find out...
When can I get it?
Although certain groups will be able to download it from Thursday, Joe Public (that's the rest of us) won't be able to access the download until Tuesday 5 May 2009.
How long can I play with the new OS?
Here's the good news, Microsoft is letting users use the Release Candidate from now (well, the 5 May) to the 1 June 2010 at which point the system will timeout and become inactive. Still - that's 13 months of free OS use.
So, totally unhindered use until June 2010?
Well, not quite. Microsoft's "bi-hourly shutdowns" will begin from 1 March 2010. This means, in an attempt to get RC users to upgrade, your PC will begin automatically shutting down, then restarting every 2 hours - with potential data loss - and much annoyance all round. To avoid this, you'll need to have splashed out for the full version by end of Feb 2010.
Can I upgrade from the beta?
Nope. If you've already downloaded and are using the beta version of Windows 7 you'll have to do a clean install. That means wiping your hard drive and starting again. The good news however is that Microsoft says it's a lot more stable than the beta version with lots of bugs fixed and security holes plugged.
Will I be able to then upgrade to the full release when it comes out?
Nope once again. This is a release candidate and therefore a chance for you to try before you buy. When it comes to the full product release - due out in January 2010 - you'll have to wipe your computer and start again. Microsoft has told Pocket-lint that it will however, be offering lots of advice for transferring your personal data across to the new OS if you decide to buy it next year.
Does Windows 7 come with support?
Nope. You'll get security updates as you currently do with Windows Vista or Windows XP, however the Windows 7 RC1 is very much you on your own playing with some software that's not finished yet. Microsoft has said that it won't be offering support for the software. That said you should be alright, but we personally don't recommend you use it on a mission critical machine. "The OS ate my 500 page novel", isn't something we would want you to have find yourself saying.
Will there be a RC2?
Never say never, but Microsoft has told us that it isn't planning on one. Some elements have been added to the release candidate that weren't in the beta that was released, and likewise some elements have been taken out following feedback from the beta testers.
The big one is the "XP Mode" that allows you to run Windows XP in a virtual window. It will be great for businesses who have XP software but want to upgrade to Windows 7. You will have to download it separately though. The XP Mode download will also be available from the 5 May.
Another new feature is Remote Media Streaming that allows you to stream your music collection from one Windows 7 machine to another Windows 7 machine over the Internet. Think listening to your home music collection from the office and you'll get the picture. No word from Microsoft as to whether the Remote Streaming Service will eventually support streaming to other handheld devices like the Zune or a Windows Mobile 6.5 phone.
Finally, IE8 fans will get the full version rather than the unfinished version as found in the beta.
So what got taken out?
Three main features have been removed. An in-box Bluetooth audio drive, guest mode, and autorun from other devices other and a CD.
The removal of Bluetooth audio driver means you won't be able to use wireless Bluetooth headphones with your computer to stream music from the get go, however it looks as though Windows 7 will still support Bluetooth audio, but you'll have to download a device driver later.
The guest mode allowed anyone to log into your computer as a guest, but following feedback seems it just wasn't needed, while the disabling of autorun on devices, such as USB storage drives, is to stop viruses like Confickr getting any action.
What version of Windows 7 is the RC1
Like the beta you'll be getting a copy of the Ultimate version that features everything. There will of course be a range of different versions to suit different machines such as the Windows 7 Starter edition designed for netbooks. However from experience here at Pocket-lint we have had the Ultimate version of the OS running on a PC slower than many netbooks available on the market.
You can't however opt for a specific version, for example if you want to see what the Starter edition is like, which is a shame.
Can I run it on any computer
Pretty much, however you'll need to make sure it's up to scratch. Microsoft are publicly saying that the minimum specs should be: 1 GHz 32-bit or 64-bit processor or higher, 1GB of system memory or more, 16GB of available disk space, Support for DirectX 9 graphics with 128MB memory (to enable the Aero theme), DVD-R/W Drive, and Internet access, although we had the beta running on a slower machine and installed it from a USB drive with no problem at all. Expect that XP Mode to be memory hungry though - it is running two OSs at the same time after all. You will need Vista on the machine as the supported upgrade scenario is from Windows Vista to Windows 7.