Today, everyone who wants to get the nearly final version of Microsoft Windows 7 operating system can begin downloading it freely.

The Windows 7 Release Candidate will be the last major pre-release milestone for Microsoft's next Windows version, which is speculated to roll out either late 2009 or early 2010. Last week, the company began offering Windows 7 RC to professional users who belong to its TechNet and MSDN communities.

“Listening to our partners and customers has been fundamental to the development of Windows 7,” said Bill Veghte, senior vice president for the Windows business at Microsoft.

“We heard them and worked hard to deliver the highest quality Release Candidate in the history of Windows. We have more partner support than we’ve ever had for an RC and are pleased to say that the Windows 7 RC has hit the quality and compatibility bar for enterprises to start putting it through its paces and testing in earnest.”

The RC includes a couple of new features like; Remote Media Streaming, which allows you to stream stuff from your home PC to your work PC, and in the pro versions, Windows XP Mode.

The release indicates that only a few changes will be made to the final version of Windows 7 and that companies can begin tailoring software or hardware to the operating system.

Windows 7 shows significant promise, Forrester Research analyst Ben Gray wrote in a independent report. Start preparing for it now, and the best way to prepare for Windows 7 is by deploying Windows Vista. Short of that, begin testing your applications and hardware for compatibility against Windows Vista; it will pay off with greater compatibility with Windows 7.

Windows 7 RC will function until June 1, 2010. After that, users will need to upgrade to a full, paid version of the operating system.

System Requirements for Windows 7 are as follows:

• 1GHz or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor

• 1 GB of RAM (32-bit)/2 GB of RAM (64-bit)

• 16 GB of available disk space (32-bit)/20 GB (64-bit)

• DirectX 9 graphics device with Windows Display Driver Model 1.0 or higher driver

Microsoft Windows 7 support minimum system requirements showing that the new OS will work on a broader array of hardware than any other release of Windows at launch.