ou can download the Release Candidate and get your own product key through July. To do so, head over to Microsoft's Windows 7 download page. Follow the download links, enter a Windows Live ID (or sign up for one), and the site will generate a new key especially for you. The key will activate Windows 7 on up to three PCs. I've knocked the last quintuplet off my key in the screenshot—get your own! And for once, Microsoft hasn't restricted the download site to IE users only; users of Firefox can get there as well.
The RC is a giant file, of course; the 32-bit version is called "7100.0.090421-1700_x86fre_client_en-us_retail_ultimate-grc1culfrer_en_dvd.iso," and it's 2.36GB. So to download it, Microsoft uses a Java-based download manager from Akamai Technologies. This is handy, because it means that if the download is interrupted, you'll find a "Start Download Manager.html" icon on your desktop. Click it to restart the download, and it will pick up where it left off.
Once you've downloaded the file, which comes as a disc image called an ISO, you'll need to turn it into a DVD. I'm a fan of ImgBurn, a lightweight, easy-to-use tool for turning disc images into actual discs. It's fairly self-explanatory software that should be part of everyone's standard utility toolkit. When you've finished burning the disc, fire up your PC and run the installer.
Alternatively, you can copy the files to a USB thumb drive and install the OS from there. This lets you circumvent the whole "burn a DVD" stage, and in theory, the installation from flash memory should be slightly quicker than installation from an optical disc.
But in our experience, the process is more complicated than necessary. After all, DVDs are quite inexpensive. Instead, burn a disc with the ISO file and copy the Windows 7 RC to your thumb drive straight off the optical media: It will have all the files necessary to let you boot from the flash drive and will work just as smoothly as a DVD.