On Friday afternoon, the Windows Team Blog made two announcements: the availability of the Release Candidate for Windows 7, and the introduction of a brand new feature coming in Win7: XP Mode ! The RC will be available for download for MSDN and TechNet Plus subscribers on this Thursday, April 30th. General availability of the RC will open on Tuesday, May 5th - check back here for an update then!
For those of you who have been running the Windows 7 Beta for a while, it will be possible to upgrade from the Beta to the RC - you'll want to read the post on the Engineering Windows 7 blog here for guidance on that scenario.
XP Mode is a significant enhancement that will allow owners and users of the Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate SKU's of Windows 7 to install and run applications in a virtual Windows XP environment that will appear to the end user as native applications. For those familiar with our Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V), this is akin to a standalone, unmanaged version of that technology. Either of these solutions will provide direct avenues for the enterprises that wish to upgrade to Windows 7 soon after release, without some of the headaches and cost that come with ensuring all existing business applications have no compatibility issues. More to come on this from us in the near term, but Paul Thurrott up at WinSuperSite.com has cracked the feature open to some extent, and has some unofficial information, if you care to check it out.