Windows 7 RC downloads end Thursday

Microsoft is disabling downloads for Windows 7 RC on Aug. 20

Those wanting to try out Microsoft's next OS before its official release need to act fast: The download period for the Windows 7 Release Candidate ends Thursday.

Users who download the release candidate can use it until the software expires on June 1. However, the OS will start shutting down every two hours from March 1 - Microsoft's way of nudging people toward a paid, supported version of the product.

The Release Candidate allows users to try Windows 7 ahead of its commercial release on Oct. 22. It also gives Microsoft a way to gather more feedback on the OS and make sure it has fixed the bugs that were identified in the beta version.

The software automatically sends that information back to Microsoft's engineers.

The OS is considered an important step forward from the Windows Vista OS, which was panned for being sluggish and resource-hungry.

Beta testers have so far praised Windows 7 for being faster and more resource-friendly.

Nevertheless, the RC, while largely feature-complete, is still unfinished software, and Microsoft recommends installing it on a back-up system rather than a user's primary PC.

Users will need to back up their data from Windows 7 RC before upgrading to the commercial release of the product. Microsoft is not providing a direct upgrade path to the final version of Windows 7, according to a document outlining OS upgrade paths.

Microsoft has already released a follow-on to Windows 7 RC, the Windows 7 RTM (Release To Manufacturing), but it's available only to a select audience, including Microsoft Developer Network and TechNet subscribers.

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