Three months after first introducing Windows 7’s virtual XP Mode, Microsoft has announced the availability of its release candidate (RC) version. As previously reported, this is an optional add-on for Windows 7 Professional or higher, and is aimed at helping small to medium-size businesses upgrade to Windows 7 by giving them a virtual Windows XP environment capable of running any legacy applications they may rely on.

This is only intended as a “last mile” of compatibility for business users, according to Microsoft, which has clarified that most XP applications will run natively on Windows 7. The software requires an additional 1GB of RAM, 15GB of available disk space, and a processor capable of hardware virtualization with AMD-V or Intel VT.

Refinements in the Windows XP Mode release candidate include new USB and drive sharing support options along with a user tutorial aimed at the small and midsize business market. It also now allows users to view recently opened Windows XP applications in the Windows 7 Jump Menu and open them from the task bar. The near-completed software is be available for public testing now and should be released in its final form at the time of the Windows 7 launch on October 22.