Microsoft's latest operating system, Windows 7, became available late Monday to the general public.

The RC will be available for download through July 2009 and there is no limit to the number of downloads. Users can continue to run it until next March, when it will start shutting down every few hours. The official expiration date is June 2010.

The official Windows 7 Release Candidate (RC) is now available from both the

Windows download site and Microsoft TechNet. A Windows XP Mode will be also available for download. It is a beta version of the Window Virtual PC utility for applications that won’t run in Windows 7.

Over the coming months, Microsoft will collect feedback on the Windows 7 release candidate over. The company allowed developers and other testers to begin downloading the release candidate last week.

Downloading the Windows 7 RC could take a few hours, Microsoft noted on the download page. The file itself is a 3.05GB download. Microsoft does however, provide a download manager that allows the process to be paused and resumed.

Both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 7 RC are available, together with five different languages: English, German, Japanese, French and Spanish.

Last week, Microsoft offered the RC to subscribers of the for-pay MSDN and TechNet services; after several hours of problems that took the services' download sites offline, Microsoft restored access later in the day.