Windows 7 Release Candidate is finally up for download from Microsoft. If you're one of the brave that ran the Beta and don't want to or don't care enough to do a clean install, you've got some tweaking to do in order to install the RC over the Beta build. Microsoft has kindly provided directions on exactly how to do this, and for anyone it should take just a few seconds to make the change and start the installation process. Skip the first 9 paragraphs and go straight to the step by step directions if you want to skip the "We don't recommend doing this" warning.
One of the new features I was hoping to see in the RC build was the addition of XP Mode or XP Within Windows 7 through the Virtual PC software that some of us have been using for several years now. Unfortunately, this does not come with the RC, but is available as an optional download here. It’s designed to be the successor to Virtual PC 2007, although as far as I can tell there haven't been many changes aside from the application pass-through and splendid USB support.
Aside from XP Mode, Windows 7 testers finally have the complete IE 8 build with the Release Candidate. The caveat is that as of this morning, the compatibility sites list hasn't been completed and should be released as an update in the next day or two. Some sites may or may not be set to compatibility mode by default, worst case is you will simply need to click it yourself. Regardless, it’s good to have the final copy of IE 8 on the system for testing.
With IE 8 final and Windows 7, Microsoft decided to add some new features. One is the response recovery feature to tabs that seem to lock up forever and generally required you to nuke the IEXPLORE.EXE process. How well this works remains to be seen, but so far I had to recover two tabs and it seemed to fix the problem. We'll see if that success rate continues as we approach the Windows 7 release in October of this year. It should be noted however that it took me a solid 2 minutes of a non-responding tab to trigger the prompt.
Aside from that, most changes I've seen so far seem to be visual only. Remote Desktop, Control Panel, and many other Icons have been changed so they no longer look like the ones we saw in Vista, likely another move by Microsoft to distance Windows 7 from Vista regardless of how similar they are under the covers.
I did see a few new items such as the "Location and Other Sensors" within Control Panel, but without hardware to use it it's not readily apparent what it does exactly. Given its name I assume it might have to do with netbooks, or other portable device with GPS support or perhaps biometric style devices go here as well. The details are a little vague on the menu itself.
Update 06/2009 3:45 PM EST
Last but not least is the new dimming option. Under Windows 7 there is a new "Dim the display" setting in addition to the standard display and sleep mode turn off timers. This allows an inactive panel to dim to save power while not in use without completely turning it off. The dim is gradual and once it starts takes about 10 seconds to completely dim from full brightness. Any action or input will cause the screen to resume its maximum brightness setting instantly. To expand on this option there is a maximum brightness slider available at the bottom of the power management page as well. It is unclear how widespread support for this feature is but what is clear is that most if not all laptop LCD panels are supported, with desktop LCD's likely getting widespread support as well.