Microsoft gives users Windows 7 free for 13 months

Company confirms June 1, 2010 expiration date for Windows 7 RC

Microsoft Corp. will let users run Windows 7 Release Candidate (RC) for more than a year, giving them free use of the new operating system for a significantly longer time than it did Vista's previews.

Windows 7 RC, slated for download by MSDN and TechNet subscribers Thursday and by the general public on May 5, doesn't expire until June 1, 2010, 13 months from Friday, Microsoft confirmed Thursday.

When asked why the company is giving users such a long free pass for the software, a spokeswoman declined to comment.

The date had been leaked more than a month ago, when a Microsoft site temporarily posted a page that revealed other details of the upcoming RC, including a May delivery and no limit on the number of downloads.

"You don't need to rush to get Windows 7 RC," the leaked page read in late March. "The RC release will be available at least through June 2009 and we're not limiting the number of product keys, so you have plenty of time."

The 13-month lifespan of Windows 7 RC is substantially longer than the time limit Microsoft put on Vista's release candidates. In September and October 2006, Microsoft issued Vista RC1 and Vista RC2, respectively; both expired June 1, 2007. Users of Vista RC2, then, were able to run the operating system free of charge for nearly eight months.

Starting June 1, 2007, PCs powered by Vista previews, including the two release candidates, began rebooting every two hours, part of Microsoft's pre-planned scheme to remind users to move to a paying copy.

Although Microsoft continues to be coy about a final release date for Windows 7 -- according to calculations by Todd Bishop, who writes the TechFlash blog, the company is behind schedule for such an announcement -- it has said that today's RC will be the only release candidate for the operating system.

The next milestone will be what Microsoft calls "release to manufacturing," or RTM, a stage that means developers have signed off on the code and the company has moved the product into duplication and begun handing it to its hardware partners for installation on new PCs.

Microsoft was having trouble serving up Windows 7 RC to MSDN and TechNet subscribers Thursday, as the download sites for both services were overloaded early Thursday. As of 1 p.m. ET, the MSDN and TechNet download pages for Windows 7 RC remained offline.

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Gregg Keizer

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