Last week, Microsoft finalized the Release Candidate (RC) milestone build for its upcoming Windows 7 desktop OS and will deliver the code to testers this week. The Windows 7 RC—build 7100—follows in the footsteps of the January release of the Windows 7 beta and is now considered "feature-complete" by the software giant.

"The Windows 7 Release Candidate is on track for download by MSDN and TechNet subscribers on April 30th," a Microsoft statement reads. "Broader public availability will begin on May 5th." Microsoft had previously announced that the Windows 7 RC would be available publicly available to anyone interested in testing it, and that it would remain available through the end of June.

The Windows 7 RC appears to be a polished, ship-quality product, in keeping with its "release candidate" designation. I've written about the RC extensively on the SuperSite for Windows, where you'll find an exhaustive review, numerous screenshot galleries, and several other articles about this pre-release milestone.

In related news, Rafael Rivera of WithinWindows and I exclusively revealed on Friday that Microsoft is delivering a free tool called Windows XP Mode to purchasers of Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate that allows them to run XP applications in a virtualized environment side-by-side with native Windows 7 applications. XP Mode will largely erase any compatibility concerns that small and midsized businesses (SMBs) might have had between Windows 7 and custom or legacy applications. You can read more about XP Mode on the SuperSite for Windows, as well. Please check out our blog post revealing the feature on the SuperSite Blog.

Looking ahead, Microsoft still claims it's on track to deliver the final version of Windows 7 by the beginning of 2010. But with the product already in near-final state, it's pretty clear that the company will be able to ship Windows 7 in time for the holiday selling season, if not the back-to-school selling season. That is, I expect Microsoft to finalize Windows 7 sometime by August at the latest and begin selling it to customers shortly thereafter.