Today, Microsoft debuts Windows 7 after spending the past few years trying to clean up the mess it made with Vista.
The new operating system, out of the box, is pretty good. But after months of online upgrades, Vista is pretty stable now - stable enough that I'm not sure Windows 7 - while significantly faster at most tasks - is going to be a huge leap for the average Vista user. Microsoft may also be making an upgrade confusing for consumers by offering four versions of the product, ranging from $119.99 to $219.99.
I installed Windows 7 on a low-end laptop, an older Dell desktop and a cheap tower I once bought my Mom for Christmas. The operating system ran pretty flawlessly on each one. Here's some of what I noticed:
Windows 7 is not as space- or memory-hungry as Vista. Games look great and play fast on the new system, especially the 64-bit version.
7 looks really good. You can personalize your desktop with screen packages that toggle pictures. 7 is not full of the pop-up alert that makes Vista a little annoying. Parental controls allow you to limit times the kids can use the computer or limit game use by rating.
Updating is going to take awhile. Expect a few hours to get the software running, then many more to get everything up-to-date. You can upgrade from Vista, but XP users will have to do a clean install and wipe their machine. Microsoft has created a pretty easy transfer system to keep old files safe, but you'll likely need a portable hard drive, and this might be a little much for novice users to attempt.
7 ports over Microsoft's neat DVD maker from Vista. It's good enough to prevent many users from needing to buy third-party software.
You can easily launch or view which apps are running, because representative icons now appear at the bottom of the screen (rather Mac-like). If you move your mouse over them, you can get a preview window.
Windows 7 has an XP mode (in Professional or Ultimate versions), which allows you to run XP in an application window. So if you have a favorite program that won't run in 7, you can run it in XP.
Networking is painless and simple. Using a Windows Live ID, you can easily stream content over the Internet to other Windows 7 PCs in your network. Search is super fast.
I think this time around Microsoft has things right. This OS still doesn't beat Apple's version, but it's the best Windows I've tried. It seems more stable and secure than previous versions.