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Get Ready for Windows 7 'Release Candidate'

Microsoft is quietly gearing up for the last public test of Windows 7 before it goes to PC makers and software retailers. The question is, with so much pent up demand, will users be able to get a download to test?

Put another way: Will Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) download servers be able to handle the crush?

Early indications Thursday, following a preliminary rollout out to subscribers to Microsoft's key technical services -- MSDN and TechNet -- are that demand will be high on Tuesday, May 5, when Microsoft releases the Windows 7 "Release Candidate" (RC) to the public.

Demand for the long-awaited RC overwhelmed Microsoft's servers for two or three hours on Thursday before the company was able to fix the glitch and get the downloads running smoothly again.

It occurred on the first day that the RC was available for download -- though access to the RC was limited only to subscribers to Microsoft's MSDN and TechNet services, not the stress of a much broader public offering.

In January, when the Windows 7 beta began, early demand for the RC stalled Microsoft's download servers. To remedy the problem, administrators brought more servers online. Thursday it was a different cause -- a case of a crashed database index.

This time the shutdown was much shorter -- only three hours or so -- whereas the overload in January took nearly a day to fully remedy.

"Due to very high demand, we are temporarily experiencing distribution issues on the download of Windows 7 RC. … Our goal is to restore full download capacity as soon as possible," Microsoft said in a statement Thursday.

It remains to be seen, however, whether demand will once again outstrip Microsoft's servers, when the public testing begins.

The RC is the last test version of Windows 7 before it is "Released to Manufacturing" or RTM.

A Rude Awakening?

Microsoft recommends a clean installation of Windows 7 RC even if the PC has been running Windows 7 beta until now.

Users who install the RC can run it until June 1, 2010. However, beginning on March 1, 2010, users of the RC will receive a warning that time is running out -- Two weeks later, the PC will automatically begin shutting down every two hours, according to a statement on Microsoft's TechNet site.

For users running the Windows 7 beta, it's a little more immediate. The beta code expires on August 1, 2009 and the rude "bi-hourly" shutdowns start July 1, 2009.

"In both cases, you’ll need to rebuild your test PCs with another valid version of the OS, and reinstall your programs and data," the statement continues.

The RC download, meanwhile, will be available for two months. "The Windows 7 RC will be available May 5, and you'll be able to download it from this site through July," said a statement Friday on Microsoft's Windows 7 site.

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