A really good question came my way this week:  What is the Significance of the RC Milestone?

Many of our product milestones (Beta, RC, etc.) are publicized as a march forward toward the final release of a product -  But what is the significance of each of these milestones?  What do our customers need to know about them?  As I started to do my research for a blog entry, I came across a great article by Greg DeMichillie with Directions on Microsoft that does an excellent job of explaining our Product Development Milestones and the general development process at Microsoft.

http://www.directionsonmicrosoft.com/sample/DOMIS/update/2004/10oct/1004ssteg.htm

So what is the significance of an RC Milestone?   The above article sums it up quite nicely:

The last steps toward the final release of a product are Release Candidates (RCs). As its name implies, an RC is a build of the product that Microsoft believes is good enough to be shipped and wants to verify. Verifying an RC involves final testing by the product’s quality assurance (testing) team as well as distribution to key customers.

By the time a product reaches the RC stage, no further changes are contemplated, except those required to fix extremely serious "show-stopping" bugs. Other changes, including fixes for less severe bugs, are likely to be deferred until a later release or the first service pack. Customers evaluating an RC release can therefore expect very few changes between it and the final build. This makes RC builds appropriate for final performance and scalability evaluations.

As with beta releases, product groups occasionally release RC builds that were obviously not ready for shipment. The RC builds of BizTalk 2004, for example, lacked product documentation. Many customers assumed this was an oversight and were dismayed to find out that the final version of the product contained no documentation and that documentation would be gradually posted to Microsoft’s Web site after the product shipped.

So if you are looking to evaluate Windows Server 2003 R2 for use in your organization, the time to look at testing it is now. You can download the RC0 build, as well a an evaluation copy of Windows Server 2003 SP1 for testing from here: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2003/R2/trial/default.mspx

- Ward