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Last chance to get free Windows 7 test copy

Downloads of the final pre-release version of Windows 7 end on Thursday. So anyone wanting to get their free copy had better hurry.

While Microsoft's Windows 7 will go on sale in just about two months, there is still a little time to get a free copy of the operating system.

Well, at least a free test copy of Windows 7, anyway. Users have until Thursday morning to download the "release candidate" version of the software--the final test version of the operating system. It's a good option for those who have a spare machine to try out the software or for Mac users looking to experiment with running Windows either in virtualization software or via Boot Camp.


Microsoft has provided free, unlimited downloads of the release candidate version, but plans to halt distribution after Thursday (Update: I'm told the bits will stop flowing at 8 a.m. PT on Thursday, so I'd get started by tomorrow at the latest)

"After that date, you will still be able to register your product and get registration keys but, the media will no longer be available for download," Microsoft's Brandon LeBlanc said in a blog posting this week.

Even for those that get the software, the free ride only lasts so long. The release candidate will only work through early next year. The software will expire entirely on June 1 and, starting March 1, it will begin shutting down every two hours to remind users that the end is nigh.

As for the software itself, although it is not the final version, I used the release candidate for months and found it to be quite stable and reliable. For those who are looking to ultimately use the software, though, I recommend just biting the bullet and upgrading to the final release.

Folks will also want to remember that to move from the release candidate to the final version requires a clean installation of the operating system, meaning backing up one's data, reinstalling Windows 7, and then restoring the data and reinstalling any applications.