The first release candidate of Windows 7 will be made available to the public in late May, according to a report from Neowin.net.

Prior to that, Microsoft will wrap up an 'escrow build' of Windows 7 Release Candidate (RC) and offer it to a small invitation-only group of testers near the end of April, said Neowin, citing information from a Russian-language website and sources within Microsoft's Technical Adoption Program, which gives large corporations sneak peeks at pre-release software.

In Microsoft's parlance, an escrow build is a post-development edition given to testers for one final examination for any show-stopping problems or bugs. Microsoft, for instance, generated an escrow build of Windows Vista Service Pack 2 (SP2) prior to posting it for public download earlier this month.

Windows 7 RC1

Microsoft has not set a ship date for Windows 7 RC, although programme managers have recently revealed details about the changes that developers have made to the OS since the public beta was released on January 10. Last week, for example, Chaitanya Sareen, a senior programme manager on the Windows team, blogged for the second time in two weeks about RC progress.

Pirated post-beta builds of Windows 7 have also been regularly leaking to the web. The latest, build 7057, reached BitTorrent last week and contained references to 'Release Candidate 1' in its end-user licensing agreement (EULA).

While Microsoft has not promised that it will issue Windows 7 RC to the public, Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president in charge of the Windows engineering group, has repeatedly hinted that it will do so.

Microsoft declined to comment on Neowin's projected delivery date, saying through a spokeswoman that it had "nothing new to share" on the subject.

See also:

Windows 7 review

Windows 7, XP or Vista: which OS is best

Computerworld US