Microsoft has jumped ahead of everyone and made the Windows 7 RC available early.  Original reports over the last week indicated the download would be online by 5PM PDT however, it appears they surprised everyone and put it online at the beginning of the 5th of May instead of the end of the day. 

Start your downloads of the Windows 7 Release Candidate! I hope they have their servers ready for the onslaught that I am sure will follow.

Some of the highlights from the download instructions page:

Here’s what you need to know before you get started:

  • You don’t need to rush! The RC will be available at least through July, and we’re not limiting the number of downloads or product keys. So you have plenty of time.

  • Installation: If you are running Windows 7 Beta you’ll need to back up your data (preferably on an external device) and then do a clean install of the Windows 7 Release Candidate. Then, you’ll need to reinstall applications and restore your files. If you need help, please see the Installation Instructions.

  • Tech details/updates: before installing the RC, please read the Release Notes and Things to Know for important information about the release.

  • Routine news: For day-to-day news, keep an eye on the team blog. And, you can get non-technical news, tips, and offers by subscribing to the monthly Exploring Windows newsletter.

  • Back up your data: We know you know this already, but please back up your data and please don’t test the RC on your primary home or business PC.

  • Keep your PC updated: To get critical updates, be sure to turn on automatic updates in Windows Update.

  • Remember expiration dates: Please plan ahead for the Beta and RC expiration dates. To avoid interruption, you’ll need to rebuild your test machine using a valid version of Windows before the software expires. Windows will notify you that the expiration process is beginning and two weeks later your PC will begin shutting down every two hours. The Beta expires on August 1, 2009, and bi-hourly shutdowns will begin July 1, 2009. The RC will expire June 1, 2010, and the bi-hourly shutdowns will begin on March 1, 2010. In both cases, you’ll need to rebuild your test PC to replace the OS and reinstall all your programs and data.

I find that last paragraph very interesting.  The software will work until June 1st of 2010 – effectively free use for over a year – however starting on March 1st of 2010 the system will shut down every two hours and will do that until the RC expires on June 1st.  So I guess that is still free – just with a usage price tag of starting up every two hours.  If your still using the Beta 1 download that process starts in about two months.  I personally will be shifted over to RTM as soon as it comes out – I just do it that way.

I will be monitoring Twitter and looking forward to seeing everyone’s view of the RC.  The Beta 1 download was grabbed over 2.5 million times – I wonder what kind of numbers the RC will see?