Most people who read The Download Blog are probably familiar with the coming release of Windows 7. For a full rundown of new features, check out Seth Rosenblatt's hands on post here, but there's plenty of Windows 7 content to pore over.
Judging from many of the comments, people who have used Windows 7 are saying it's the OS everyone hoped Vista would be. So when I read this week that you can easily setup and run Windows 7 in a virtual environment on an Intel Mac, I had to try it out. I can't advise every Intel Mac user to try this, but if you're an experienced computer user and take care to make sure your current data is backed up beforehand, this method for getting the Windows 7 Release Candidate on your Mac is pretty simple. The best part about it? It's free.
To get started, download VirtualBox (Mac or Windows). This free virtual environment from Sun lets you set up a sterile environment to test out questionable apps, experiment with beta programs, and--for our purposes--launch an entirely different operating system. Anyone with VMWare Fusion or Parallels can skip this step; VirtualBox is for people who don't already have a virtual environment. Boot Camp users who install Windows 7 on a partition can launch Windows 7 after a restart, but VirtualBox makes it possible without a restart for free.
Once VirtualBox is installed, download the Windows 7 Release Candidate. This is a 2.36GB file--so if you're not on a fast connection (and even if you are) you'll probably want to download it over night. You will need a Hotmail account, MSN account, or Windows Live ID to download the file from Microsoft.
Launch VirtualBox and create a New Virtual Machine. Name the machine "Windows 7" or whatever will be recognizable to you. Make sure to set the RAM to 1GB for smoother performance. The rest of the settings you can leave as default. Start your new virtual machine, and choose to install Windows from CD/DVD (you're using a CD image of the software which you'll choose by browsing your desktop). In the Media Source section of that same window, choose the Windows 7 image file you downloaded.
Next, you will go through several installation dialog boxes which should be mostly self explanatory (Install Now, language choice, etc). When the installer asks which type of installation you want, choose Custom (Advanced) because you are installing cleanly on an untouched virtual system. When the next window asks where you would like to install Windows, install it in the default location (which will be your 20GB virtual hard drive).
From there, wait through the installation process, choose whatever username you want, and Use Recommended settings to start off. Since this is a free release candidate for testing, you can bypass the registration screen completely by hitting Next.
Last, but not least, set the Windows clock to the correct time, choose the type of network your on (if you have a network) and that's it! Windows 7 should start up. The Windows 7 Release Candidate will continue to run through June 2010, when it will begin to nag you to buy the full version.
Note: If you plan to run Windows regularly in VirtualBox, you will need to take precautions against viruses, spyware, and other common Windows security concerns. At the very least download a free antivirus program and an antispyware program. To get you started for free, I suggest AntiVir and Malwarebytes, though there are plenty of free options available.