What's new in the Windows 7 Release Candidate?

The Windows 7 release candidate that hit MSDN and Technet accounts is now publicly available. We take a look at what's occurred between the beta and the RC.

In terms of raw features, the only real biggie is that Internet Explorer 8 is now included in the operating system IE8 arrived too late for inclusion in the beta. IE8 can also be turned off now from the Windows Features section though it's not actually removed as it's still used in certain parts of the operating system, but it will stop popping up as a default when you don't want it to.

XP Mode

It's not directly part of the RC, but a new feature now available to download is Windows XP mode. This is a designed to enable Windows XP applications to run with guaranteed 100 per cent compatibility inside Windows 7 with the intention of helping businesses transfer over to Windows 7 seamlessly.

It consists of a packaged version of Windows XP running under Microsoft's Virtual PC application and is available as a download for Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate owners. As this is desktop virtualisation, a CPU with hardware virtualisation is a minimum requirement. Most recent CPUs from Intel and AMD feature the requisite Intel-VT or AMD-V technology, but unfortunately some recent models don't have the feature so you need to check carefully what CPU your systems have. Even then, the feature is normally turned off by default in the BIOS, so work has to be done to enable it there too.

Once installed though the apps will appear in the Windows 7 start menu and can even be pinned to the taskbar, though the flashy new Aero Peek previews won't be available.

Remote Media streaming is a new feature that will enable you to stream your media content over the internet from another Windows 7 machine enabling you to run your own personal Spotify service.

Security

Windows used to treat USB memory keys in the same way as CD and DVD-ROM media and permitted applications to Auto run but this proved to be a loophole that that was enabling viruses and malware to spread. Microsoft has changed this behaviour and now programs on flash media will not run automatically a possible inconvenience to some, but probably a sacrifice worth making for the extra security.

Performance

Microsoft has been continually tweaking performance based on telemetry information it has obtained from the beta. For example, it aims to get the Start Menu to appear within 50-100ms, and it's been achieving this most of the time with more recent builds.

The reliability of the taskbar has now been improved too, and any changes are now saved within 30 seconds rather than as the end of the session. This avoids the scenario where an unexpected crash would mean that a user's carefully arranged desktop would appear as default after a reboot.

These are just some of the tweaks and changes that Microsoft has made. It's good to know that the company is really working hard to improve its operating system and learn the lessons of Vista.

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