Microsoft Platform Releases: A Big Week for Downloads

Windows 7 RC, Windows Server 2008 R2 RC, Office 2007 SP2 and more

Gentlemen and ladies, it's time to fire up your copies of Microsoft File Transfer Manager: The software giant has made several important platform releases available for download over the past week, and more are coming in the days ahead. Here's what's on tap:

What: Windows 7 Release Candidate
Where: On MSDN and TechNet and public download now
Why it's important:
Windows 7 RC is the final major prerelease milestone version of Microsoft's next client OS, and it’s almost all good news. Windows 7 RC features a slew of minor user interface changes, Internet-based media sharing via Windows Media Player (WMP), and compatibility with an exciting new compatibility feature called XP Mode (see below).

What: XP Mode and Windows Virtual PC Beta (for Windows 7 RC)
Where: On MSDN and TechNet and public download now
Why it's important:
The next version of Virtual PC will be provided only to licensees of Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate Editions, and it will come with a fully-licensed copy of Windows XP SP3 that you can run in a virtual environment. As with Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V), however, Virtual PC also lets users simply run virtualized XP applications inside of the host Windows 7 environment, foregoing the complexity of two desktops, each with their own applications. Did I mention this was free?

What: Windows Server 2008 R2 Release Candidate
Where: On MSDN and TechNet now, public download sometime in May
Why it's important:
Server 2008 R2 is being co-developed with Windows 7, and although the R2 name suggests a pretty minor release, this one is a doozy. It includes major advances to Hyper-V (including Live Migration capabilities), new Windows PowerShell 2.0-based management interfaces, major power management advances, and other new features. But the RC is jam- packed with new stuff, too, including some previously secret Hyper-V enhancements, impressive performance and scalability gains, and more. And some stuff I can't talk about yet, so expect a full R2 write-up in the near future.

What: Service Pack 2 for Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008
Where: On MSDN and TechNet now, public download/ Windows Update sometime in May
Why it's important:
Windows Vista and Server 2008 are now being serviced by a single service pack, which should make deployment easier. But there's lots of new functionality in there too, including Windows Search 4.0, Bluetooth 2.1, Blu-Ray data disc writing support, exFAT file system improvements, simplified Wi-Fi configuration, support for VIA 64-bit processors, and more.

What: Microsoft Office 2007 SP2
Where: Broadly available via MSDN, TechNet, Windows Update, Microsoft.com
Why it's important:
Office 2007 aggregates all of the security and other updates Microsoft has delivered through February 2009, but it also provides some interesting new capabilities. These include significant improvements to the stability, performance, and interoperability of the Office suite. That latter bit refers to compatibility with non-Microsoft file formats like PDF and ODF, the Open Document Format. Some of the biggest performance improvements are in Microsoft Outlook: Microsoft reports that that application is 26 percent faster than its predecessor on a set of common e-mail tasks and is even faster, at 35 percent, with larger mailboxes.

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