With little fanfare, Microsoft promoted Windows 7 Service Pack 1 to release candidate status, hitting the last major milestone before the code is finalised and shipped early next year.
The company has posted Windows 7 SP1 RC on its site in a combined download for the client operating system and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1.
The release candidate, or RC, is the first edition aimed at the general public, a Microsoft spokesman said in a entry on the company's blog. It will also be the last, as the company will move directly from SP1 RC to RTM, or "release to manufacturing", a term that describes code that's been given the green light for duplication and distribution to computer makers.
Microsoft also repeated what it has said several times already, that Windows 7 SP1 includes "no additional new features specific to Windows 7", but instead will be a collection of all security updates and non-security hotfixes that have been issued via Windows Update.
The only notable addition to Windows 7 SP1 is an updated Remote Desktop client designed to work with RemoteFX, the new remote-access platform included with Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1. The latter also includes a feature dubbed "Dynamic Memory". which lets IT staff adjust guest virtual machines' memory on the fly.
Users can download 32- or 64-bit installers, run a tool to upgrade a stock Windows 7 machine through Windows Update, or grab a 1.9GB disk image in .iso format for installing over a network or burned to a DVD. The executable installers weigh in at 515MB and 865MB for the 32- and 64-bit editions, respectively.
In notes accompanying the download, Microsoft said anyone who had installed Windows 7 SP1 beta had to uninstall that preview before moving to the RC. The same will hold true later, as SP1 RC will have to be uninstalled before a PC is upgraded to the RTM build.
Microsoft launched the sole SP1 beta last July.
SP1 RC supports 14 languages, including Brazilian Portuguese, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese and Chinese (Hong Kong).
If Microsoft sticks to the schedules used to finalise and ship the last two Windows service packs - 2008's Windows XP SP3 and 2009's Vista SP2 - it will announce Windows 7 SP1 RTM at some point between the end of December 2010 and late February 2011. By the same token, Microsoft could release SP1 to Windows Update anytime after late January 2011.
Although those ship windows would mean that Windows 7 receives its first service pack several months later than either XP or Vista - which got theirs 10 and 12 months after the original OS's release, respectively - that's wouldn't be a bad thing, analysts have said.
Last March, Directions on Microsoft analyst Michael Cherry argued that an early delivery of SP1 might stall Windows 7's momentum by giving enterprises an excuse to delay their migration plans. Earlier this week, Cherry and others used similar logic to explain why Microsoft withdrew a statement from a company blog that claimed Windows 8 would appear in 2012.
Microsoft has not revealed a release date for Windows 7 SP1, but did say Tuesday that it would deliver the service pack in the first quarter of 2011.
Windows 7 SP1 RC can be downloaded from Microsoft's site.