Windows 7's about ready to come out of the oven, and now everybody can shove their hands in the warm OS pie. And really, you should. Here's everything you need to know to dive in.

If you've already got Windows 7, be sure to check out our complete guide.

1. Where Do I Get It?
Right here! If you're at work, don't worry, you have until July to download it. From there, you'll need to burn the disc image to a DVD or copy it to a flash drive. From there, you can follow our guide to installing Windows 7 pain-free (or Lifehacker's, though I hear they smell like nerd feet). There's a guide for doing it on a Mac too.

2. Will It Run on My Computer?

Probably. It's run fantastically on netbooks for us, if that tells you anything. But here are the hard minimum specs:

• 1 GHz processor (32- or 64-bit)
• 1 GB of RAM (32-bit); 2 GB of RAM (64-bit)
• 16 GB of available disk space (32-bit); 20 GB of available disk space (64-bit)
• DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver


3. Wait, Can I Upgrade My Current Windows Install?
If you're running Windows Vista, you sure can—it's designed to be easy to go from Vista to Windows 7, actually. It's a little more complicated with other types of Windows. You can upgrade your Windows 7 Beta install if you've got one, but it's not recommended, and takes a bit of skunkwork. You're out of luck with XP and any other older version of Windows, which is how it's gonna be with the retail version of Windows 7 too—though Microsoft has some tools to make it less painful, or you could take the long way around, just to say you did it.

4. Is It Safe?
It's very safe. Unlike Google, Microsoft seems to be using product cycle terms in their traditional sense, so the designation "release candidate" means it's a version that's got the potential to go final—as long as nothing majorly FUBAR is discovered—with just a few little bugs left for squishing. Besides, the Windows 7 Beta was pretty damn solid to begin with. And if you follow one of our guides to dual-booting it, then you've really got nothing to worry about.

All of your hardware should work just fine, especially if it worked alright on Vista, since we're talking mostly the same OS guts here, and Microsoft bent over backward to make stuff backward compatible with Vista. It's possible you'll need to grab drivers for your hardware or gadget straight from the manufacturer—or in the case of graphics cards from Nvidia or ATI, you'll want to for the best possible performance—but you should be able to just plug and play.

Still, back your stuff up! That's just common sense.

5. How Long Can I Keep It?

Depends on what you mean by that! It goes completely poof on June 1, 2010. But on March 1, it becomes basically unusable—it starts automatically shutting down every two hours like a dbag.

6. How Is RC1 Better Than the Beta?
Lots of stuff, actually. Just for starters, Aero Peek is better, and works with Alt+Tab now when you're flipping through programs. Windows Key shortcuts are more logical, so pressing Windows Key + [number key] switches between apps pinned to the taskbar, rather than just launching 'em. And things just feel smoother—more fade transition effects sprinkled throughout, for instance, and there seems to be a bit more snap to everything, like a carrot. If you like carrots.

7. What's This I Hear About XP Mode?

It's true, Windows 7's secret new feature is XP Mode. It's a virtual Windows XP machine—complete with a fully licensed copy of Windows XP SP 3 installed on the virtual machine—that you can download which runs seamlessly in Windows 7, so you can do crazy things like run IE6 side-by-side with IE8. It's meant for businesses who need compatibility for mission critical XP-only apps.

Really, don't get too hung up on it—it's only for the Enterprise, Professional and Ultimate versions of Windows 7, not the Home Premium version you'll probably be running one day. (The release candidate is Ultimate, so you can toy around with it after downloading it here.) You also need a processor with either Intel Virtualization Technology or AMD-V and 2GB of RAM. And you can't really do anything intense like gaming inside of it. Oh, and fair warning, it's also probably one of the release candidate's glitchiest features. Image via Wikipedia.

8. Holy Crap, Microsoft Is Tripping on Acid!


9. What's Still Glitchy?
Uh, the aforementioned Windows XP Mode, for one. Some of our Steam games are still acting a little bit weird, notably with audio. Coming out of sleep can be wonky for OpenGL with UAC turned on. Occasional taskbar weirdness if you play around with the positioning. But all in all, fairly minor stuff, so far.


10. Why Should I Go Through All This Trouble?
Simply put, Windows 7 has been awesome. Whatever bad things you felt toward Vista—hate, fear, rage, apathy, bi-curiosity—Windows 7 probably solves your issue. The UI's evolved more than it has in years, you don't need to download a bunch of stupid codecs, it makes plugging in gadgets kind of fun, it's more secure and generally, life's just a lot better for anyone on a PC. While Microsoft says a pre-release shouldn't be your main OS, we're pretty sure it will be, almost instantly. Click to view