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Microsoft springs Windows 7 RC a day early

Microsoft Corp. last week launched its long-awaited Windows 7 Release Candidate to the public a day earlier than expected, posting the download before midnight Eastern time last Monday.

Unlike in January, when Microsoft's servers were overwhelmed by a rush of users eager to grab the first Windows 7 beta, last week's downloads went smoothly. However, some pages, including those that led to the activation keys needed for the download, did render slowly.

Microsoft said that it is not limiting the release of Windows 7 RC and that users will be allowed to run the software until June 1, 2010. A spokeswoman would not say why the company is giving users such a long free pass for the software. But Microsoft officials are facing a difficult task in prying users away from the popular Windows XP operating system and convincing them that it learned lessons from widespread Vista woes.

The Windows 7 RC can be downloaded until July 1, Microsoft said. The beta version of the software expires on Aug. 1.

Windows 7 RC is available in 32- and 64-bit versions. The 32-bit software weighs in at 2.47GB, while the 64-bit version tips the scales at 3.2GB. The company said that it does not provide support for the release candidate.

Microsoft has said that the software released last week will be the one-and-only release candidate it issues for Windows 7, which follows a single beta release of the new operating system. The schedule is somewhat unique: Microsoft usually runs its operating systems through multiple betas and multiple release candidates. For example, it delivered two betas and two release candidates for Windows Vista during that operating system's trouble-plagued development.

Microsoft has not disclosed a final ship date for the software, though an executive has reportedly said that Windows 7 could be shipping in time for the crucial holiday sales period. And based on comparisons to timelines of significant dates in the release process of predecessor operating systems Windows XP and Windows Vista, the new software could be generally available as early as August.

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