The much-awaited Windows 7 is here. How quickly will it erase the memory of Vista from our hard drives?
So this is the way Vista ends – not with a bang, but with a strange campaign urging us to hold tupperware-style parties eschewing the virtues of its successor.
The lack of fanfare may be Microsoft's way of showing humility and avoiding the hubris of the Vista launch. Whatever the reason, it's ironic because Windows 7 is, as you'll have seen in our review of the beta version, a lot better than Vista. The question is, is it good enough?
For day-to-day use, the biggest difference between Vista and Windows 7 is that the latter is far less intrusive. User Account Control (UAC), which prevents programs from installing without your permission, doesn't shout for attention as often. You also won't, for example, find full-screen games suddenly being dumped to the background because another program wants to install an update.
That said, the new, dock-like taskbar occasionally and inexplicably hovers over games, and the UAC alert can end up sitting behind the working window so patiently you don't notice it's calling for attention.
Overall, though, Windows 7 is a massive improvement. It looks better than Vista, it's more stable and there are some quirky new features that you may or may not end up using depending on whether they seem intuitive.
These largely centre around three features that help you clean up the desktop space. ‘Peek’ turns all your windows transparent, ‘Shake’ minimises all the windows you’re not looking at right now, and ‘Jump Lists’ cascade window thumbnails from running icons on the task bar.
The Control Panel is much more organised than the scatterchart that gave you power over Vista, but anyone who's used Mac OSX will quickly realise that a lot of pruning could still have been done. It's still not hard to find an options screen that looks identical to XP either, which seems incongruous to Windows 7's new look.
For example, the new Device Centre looks very modern and fresh and has some great features for transcoding video to compatible players. But right-click on any device and you're taken to the same old Device Manager properties page – which you can still get to via Device Manager, too.
One of our favourite features, though, is the new Back-up and Restore manager, which is damn near perfect for streamlining the tedious but essential process of protecting your files.
Netbooks and boot times
Much has been made of the fact that Windows 7 works much better on netbooks than Vista did. Given that it supports multi-touch input, we could see some really interesting netbook-tablet hybrids very soon. On the downside it tends to be a little heavier on battery life than XP.
One thing we do like a lot are the new Media Center controls for streaming movies and songs over a network. With the increasing number of DLNA TVs on the market, this is likely to be something we use more and more often in the future.
While it probably won't tempt recent Apple or Linux converts back to the Microsoft fold, Windows 7 does take the stigma out of buying a new PC. It's definitely worth upgrading to if you're still running XP. What it actually delivers over its predecessor makes it pleasant, but not essential, for Vista users.
The biggest problem Microsoft faces is that the era of the one-size-fits-all operating system is coming to an end. As our data and applications are passed off into the cloud, it becomes increasingly less relevant as to what we're running locally.
Simpler operating systems, like the netbook-friendly Moblin are looking more desirable by the day. Still, until you can play graphically intensive games from the cloud, the Windows PC will remain essential – and Windows 7 now makes it an enjoyable experience.
Microsoft Windows 7 review
Scratch it and you'll still see Vista underneath, but Windows 7 is a big improvement over its troubled predecessor and well worth upgrading to