Stable and completed code for Windows 7 will be released to early adopters during the coming week, with mass availability planned for the following Tuesday.
The eagerly awaited Windows 7 Release Candidate 1 will be posted to members of Microsoft's Developer Network and TechNet for download on April 30. RC1 will be made generally available on May 5, Microsoft said late Friday.
Microsoft confirmed the dates after the RC leaked to four torrent sites, causing excitement and frustration that Microsoft didn't appear to be offering a date for release.
This is expected to be the last code cut before Windows 7 is delivered as final product, unless major bugs or faults are uncovered. Microsoft pointedly did not give a date for Windows 7's release to manufacturing when it announced the RC and has been clinging to a 2010 time frame.
The smart money, though, is on release to manufacturing and OEMs this year, as early as this summer. Consumers are expected to get Windows 7 on new PCs and as boxed product in time for the back-to-school shopping window starting in September and October or the holiday shopping season a little later.
Businesses on Microsoft's enterprise accounts are likely to get a slightly earlier lead-time on the new operating system.
Windows XP, the predecessor to Windows Vista, officially launched in October 2001 - in good time for the holiday shopping season - while Windows Vista was delivered to consumers in the fallow, post-holiday shopping period of a February - a fact that meant a disappointing start to sales.
Windows 7 has been pretty much completed from a usability perspective for a while, with people already using the operating system at work.
Windows Experience blogger Brandon LeBlanc said changes since January's beta included bug fixes and improvements to the overall "experience," He pointed to refinements in the new taskbar, the behavior of Aero Peek, Touch, and Windows Media Player. You can see what changed between the beta and RC here and here. ®