Try Windows 7 RC free for a year.

On May 5th the Release Candidate version of Windows 7 will be made available to the general public—it’s already available to MSDN subscribers—and if you decide to give it a try you’ll have a full year before it expires:

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.”

Vista’s RCs had relatively short trial periods, a little over 6 months, so having 13 months to dick around with Windows 7 makes for a nice change. The OS itself has already generated quite a bit of buzz with a lot of folks saying it’s what Vista should have been. I downloaded the beta myself, but never got around to installing it. I’ll be setting up my system to dual boot with the RC version once it’s available.

ArsTechnica covers the unveiling of “Windows 7.”

The folks over at ArsTechnica.com attended Windows PDC and got a good look at the next version of Windows:

At PDC today, Microsoft gave the first public demonstration of Windows 7. Until now, the company has been uncharacteristically secretive about its new OS; over the past few months MS has let on that the taskbar will undergo a number of changes, and that many bundled applications would be unbundled and shipped with Windows Live instead. There have also been occasional screenshots of some of the new applets like Calculator and Paint. Now that the covers are finally off, the scale of the new OS becomes clear. The user interface has undergone the most radical overhaul and update since the introduction of Windows 95 thirteen years ago.

First, however, it’s important to note what Windows 7 isn’t. Windows 7 will not contain anything like the kind of far-reaching architectural modifications that Microsoft made with Windows Vista. Vista brought a new display layer and vastly improved security, but that came at a cost: a significant number of (badly-written) applications had difficulty running on Vista. Applications expecting to run with Administrator access were still widespread when Vista was released, and though many software vendors do a great job, there are still those that haven’t updated or fixed their software. Similarly, at its launch many hardware vendors did not have drivers that worked with the new sound or video subsystems, leaving many users frustrated.

While windows 7 doesn’t undo these architectural changes—they were essential for the long-term health of the platform—it equally hasn’t made any more. Any hardware or software that works with Windows Vista should also work correctly with Windows 7, so unlike the transition from XP to Vista, the transition from Vista to 7 won’t show any regressions; nothing that used to work will stop working.

Which should do a lot to ease concerns about whether or not one should upgrade if you’re already running Vista. So what is changing? The user experience itself:

The biggest visible result of all this is the taskbar. The taskbar in Windows 7 is worlds apart from the taskbar we’ve known and loved ever since the days of Chicago.

Text descriptions on the buttons are gone, in favor of big icons. The icons can—finally—be rearranged; no longer will restarting an application put all your taskbar icons in the wrong order. The navigation between windows is now two-level; mousing over an icon shows a set of window thumbnails, and clicking the thumbnail switches windows.

Right clicking the icons shows a new UI device that MS calls “Jump Lists”.

[…] Jump lists provide quick access to application features. Applications that use the system API for their Most Recently Used list (the list of recently-used filenames that many apps have in their File menus) will automatically acquire a Jump List containing their most recently used files. There’s also an API to allow applications to add custom entries; Media Player, for example, includes special options to control playback.

That’s just one of many major changes to how the desktop works and, frankly, I think a lot of the changes are going to be very popular. They have several screenshots in the article so it’s worth a read just to see what’s changing. The ability to “peek” at windows and the desktop is very cool and I can already see it being useful when I blog.

The official name for Windows 7 will be: “Windows 7”

Considering all the gruff Microsoft took over the name “Windows Vista” (including some gruff from me) it’s probably a smart move on their part to just go with something simple for the next major release:

Windows Vista Team Blog : Introducing Windows 7

And, as you probably know, since we began development of the next version of the Windows client operating system we have been referring to it by a codename, “Windows 7.”  But now is a good time to announce that we’ve decided to officially call the next version of Windows, “Windows 7.”

While I know there have been a few cases at Microsoft when the codename of a product was used for the final release, I am pretty sure that this is a first for Windows. You might wonder about the decision.

The decision to use the name Windows 7 is about simplicity. Over the years, we have taken different approaches to naming Windows.  We’ve used version numbers like Windows 3.11, or dates like Windows 98, or “aspirational” monikers like Windows XP or Windows Vista.  And since we do not ship new versions of Windows every year, using a date did not make sense.  Likewise, coming up with an all-new “aspirational” name does not do justice to what we are trying to achieve, which is to stay firmly rooted in our aspirations for Windows Vista, while evolving and refining the substantial investments in platform technology in Windows Vista into the next generation of Windows.

Simply put, this is the seventh release of Windows, so therefore “Windows 7” just makes sense.

As you know if you’re an SEB regular, I actually like Vista despite my initial dislike of the name itself. Which I suppose makes me a kind of maverick. Which I suppose makes me like John McCain. No wonder everyone hates me.

Anyway, I find the name Windows 7 to be very agreeable. It’s simple and doesn’t try to evoke a vaguely defined “experience” that the product will supposedly provide me. It’s Windows and it’s the 7th version. Short, to the point, and not wishy washy.

Bill Gates says Windows 7 will be out within the next year.

Looks like Vista will be joining the ranks of past Microsoft OSes such as Windows ME as a short-lived and much reviled release as word from the Big Man himself says that Windows 7 will be out next year:

MIAMI—Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates on Friday indicated that Windows 7, the next major version of Windows, could come within the next year, far ahead of the development schedule previously indicated by the software maker.

In response to a question about Windows Vista, Gates, speaking before the Inter-American Development Bank here, said: “Sometime in the next year or so we will have a new version.” Referring to Windows 7, the code name for the next full release of Windows client software, Gates said: “I’m super-enthused about what it will do in lots of ways.”

[…] Unclear is whether Gates was referring to early testing of Windows 7 coming within the year, as opposed to a widespread release or debut. An early test geared toward developers would be conceivable. The company has repeatedly said that it will accelerate the development of new Windows versions, largely as a response to Vista’s roughly five year gestation period.

Of course Windows 7 will be using Vista as its base to begin with so it’s not like Vista is really going away, but this news may be enough for a lot of folks to skip right over Vista as it currently stands in hopes that the next version of Windows fixes a lot of the perceived flaws. It’ll be particularly interesting to see how businesses react to this news considering that last week Microsoft started pushing harder for businesses to adopt Vista.