As of Monday, the free "Release Candidate," or RC, of Windows 7 will start to automatically shut down every two hours to warn users that the RC will completely expire on June 1.
In order to test Windows 7 last spring, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) made the RC -- the last test phase before the operating system was "Released to Manufacturing" -- available to users for download.
While some sites hailed the RC downloads as a "free" way to obtain Windows 7, however, Microsoft put a limit on how long the RC would run. It would be more correct to say that it was a free trial.
The company did the same thing with the beta test copies of Windows 7 released in January 2009.
In the case of the beta, those copies began shutting down at the end of June, and completely expired -- not even letting users get to the desktop, as of August 1.
Some users and analysts dubbed the behavior "shutdown hell." Now, the same thing is about to occur to users still running the RC beginning Monday.
A series of popups, your work won't be saved
"It [Windows 7 RC] will shut down every 2 hours. Your work won't be saved," a blog post on Microsoft's TechNet technical service said on Feb. 1.
As if that weren't annoying enough, those RC users have been receiving less intrusive warnings of the RC's pending expiration since Feb. 15 -- getting once a day popups but no shutdowns yet. Coming down to the last three days before March 1, users will be warned of the pending shutdowns with popups every four hours and, on the last day, every hour.
When the RC reaches the expiration date, Windows Activation Technologies, or WAT, will cease to recognize the RC as a legitimately-licensed version of Windows.
"On June 1st, 2010, a non-genuine experience is triggered where your wallpaper is removed and 'This copy of Windows is not genuine' will be displayed in the lower right corner above the taskbar. This means your PC will no longer be able to obtain optional updates or downloads that require genuine Windows validation," said a post on the Windows 7 Team Blog, also on Feb. 1.
Clean install required
However, moving to a retail release of Windows 7 or an earlier version of Windows will require a clean installation.
"To continue using your computer, you should prepare to install the retail release version of Windows 7 or install an earlier version of Windows before the June 1, 2010 expiration date. You will be unable to upgrade from Windows 7 RC to the retail release version of Windows 7," said a Microsoft knowledge base article referred to in the blog post.