Microsoft yesterday warned customers that last year's free preview of Windows 7 will start nagging users to pay for the operating system in two weeks, and begin automatically shutting down PCs in one month.

Microsoft unveiled the schedule for Windows 7 Release Candidate's retirement in May 2009, when it issued the early look to the public.

At the time, it said Windows 7 RC would expire June 1, 2010. Before that date, however, users are to receive warnings of the impending end. Starting on February 15, Windows 7 RC will display notices every few hours that the machine will periodically shut down beginning on March 1.

As of March 1, PCs running Windows 7 RC will automatically shut down every two hours. Those shutdowns will come without warning.

Windows 7 RC users: prepare for shutdowns

"To avoid any data loss, I suggest making plans to move to a released version of Windows 7 before the automatic shutdowns start [on March 1]," said Microsoft spokesman Brandon LeBlanc in an entry on the Windows 7 blog yesterday. "During these shutdowns, your work will not be saved."

From March 1 to June 1, the automatic shutdowns will continue. On June 1, Windows 7 RC is tagged as "not genuine" - Microsoft's term for counterfeit - and boots to a solid black screen that shows a Windows Activation screen.

To make matters tougher for users still running the free version, Microsoft does not allow in-place upgrades from the RC to a paid copy. Instead, users must back up their data, do a clean install - Microsoft calls it a "custom install" - that erases the contents of the hard drive before it installs the operating system, then restore the backed-up data and reinstall all applications.

Microsoft has previously confirmed that customers can use the less-expensive upgrade editions of Windows 7 to migrate from the RC to a paying copy.

Computerworld.com