updated 10:50 am EDT, Sat April 25, 2009
Windows 7 RC May 5
Microsoft on Friday confirmed the readiness of both the Release Candidate for Windows 7 as well as a new approach the company is taking to support legacy Windows XP apps. The developer now says that its recently leaked Release Candidate will be available to MSDN and TechNet members on April 30th and that the public will get access on the promised May 5th date. The release is the last widely available test version before the final version and has changes to key elements like the taskbar, touchscreen control and other key features.
On top of the near-finished OS release, the company adds that Windows 7 will have a new, special emulation mode tailored to businesses and others that need an exact Windows XP environment for their apps. Similar to Classic in earlier versions of Mac OS X, the simply-titled XP Mode creates a complete virtual session (using Virtual PC) for XP apps that is nearly hidden for the user; software is installed in XP Mode but runs as though it were a native app, with only an XP-style title bar to indicate that the software is in emulation.
The feature won't replace regular backwards compatibility in Windows 7 and will be available as a free but separate download only for Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate users. Microsoft anticipates a beta release soon.
Both the RC and XP Mode releases are crucial for Microsoft, which suffered its first loss in decades through not just economic concerns but also a struggling Windows business. The company has encountered regular resistance to Windows Vista from businesses whose apps won't run within the current OS but is also under pressure to release Windows 7 in time for home users' holiday shopping. Dell and some other PC makers continue to offer XP as a choice for some of their home PCs as customers actively avoid Vista due to perceived problems; Microsoft has also been taking on a deliberate financial penalty on netbooks, selling $15 Windows XP copies to prevent Linux from getting a significant hold in the category.
The firm will also have to contend with the mid-to-late release of Mac OS X Snow Leopard.