Windows 7 RC's 'free' reign to end with auto-shutdowns

Users must buy the OS by March 1, 2010 or face no-warning reboots

What Microsoft gives, it takes away.

With the launch of Windows 7 Release Candidate (RC) Tuesday, anyone can get their hands on a copy of the final public preview and, according to Microsoft, use it until Aug. 1, 2010, when the RC expires. But most users won't want to use it for the entire 13 months Microsoft has allotted.

"For the RC, bi-hourly shutdowns will begin March 1, 2010," said spokesman Brandon LeBlanc in just one of several warnings Tuesday that Microsoft gave RC users of an earlier deadline.

As it did with Windows Vista's previews, Microsoft will start pushing users to upgrade to the real thing by automatically shutting down, then restarting, PCs equipped with Windows 7 RC three months before the build officially expires.

"You will be alerted to install a released version of Windows and your PC will shut down automatically every 2 hours [starting March 1, 2010]," said LeBlanc. "On June 1, 2010, if you are still on the Windows 7 RC, your license for the Windows 7 RC will expire and the non-genuine experience is triggered." At that point, LeBlanc continued, the copy will be marked as bogus, with on-screen nags and a black background.

Unless users are prepared to put up with the automatic reboots -- which come without warning and so may cause data loss -- they'll have to give up Windows 7 RC on the last day of February 2010, about 10 months after it went public.

Windows 7 Beta, which Microsoft launched last January, will start rebooting even earlier -- July 1, said LeBlanc -- a month before it expires.

Earlier, Computerworld reported that users could run Windows 7 RC for 13 months, and compared that favorably to Vista RC's shorter "free" periods. Actually, with the Windows 7 RC shutdown looming three months before expiration, the new operating system's free run is similar to Vista RC's.

In 2007, Vista RC1 and RC2 started rebooting on June 1, nine-and-a-half and nine months, respectively, after they were released. Those previews actually expired Aug. 28, 2007, nearly three months after the reboots began. Window 7 RC, at 10 months between release and auto-reboot, gives users only several weeks, not several months, more free time than they got with Vista.

"I suggest making plans to move to a released version of Windows well before the automatic shutdowns start to occur to prevent data loss," LeBlanc urged.

Microsoft posted Windows 7 RC to its site yesterday, and although there were reports of slow download speeds, the company's servers withstood the load, unlike in January, when they folded under the crush of users rushing to get the beta.

Windows 7 RC will be available for downloading through at least the end of July, Microsoft has promised.

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