Windows 7 is the successor to Windows Vista. The new version of Windows went into worldwide beta testing this weekend and you will probably be buying it on your new computers by early fall.

Why a new version of Windows? Funny you should ask.

Windows Vista has been on the market for two years. It’s mature and stable. Everything works with it except a small number of rapidly aging devices and programs. It has improvements large and small over Windows XP and it’s far more secure. Most people using Vista wind up liking it quite a lot after a surprisingly short transition.

And yet the perception among people who don’t use Vista is that it’s something to be avoided. I heard it again last week from several people replacing Windows XP computers. They can’t describe any reason why they feel that way – they “heard” it wasn’t any good. And they did! From Mac users, who repeat talking points with an eagerness that would make the Republican National Committee jealous. From too many online bloggers and columnists with too much time and too much space to fill. From real people whose experience was spoiled by manufacturers that sold computers that could not run Vista adequately, or that sold computers with crapware that turned the Vista experience into a nightmare, or that failed to support their devices and software for a year after Vista’s release, or that used Vista as an excuse to extort money for upgrades that should have been free.

Microsoft allowed this debacle to develop with inept marketing and advertising, and crucially contributed to it when it created “Vista Capable” stickers to foster the illusion that underpowered computers would run Vista.

Microsoft desperately wants to sweep the “Vista” brand name under the rug, but it has no reason to abandon anything other than the name, since the OS is just great.

Windows 7 Welcome to Windows 7! It will be presented relentlessly as a “new” operating system. I expect Microsoft to avoid using the word “Vista” whenever possible.

So let’s be clear. Windows 7 is Windows Vista with a face lift, and a pretty modest face lift at that. Oh, there are some nice improvements in the arrangements of controls, a few new features, and it performs slightly better on underpowered equipment, but any honest reporting will tell you that it offers nothing important that isn’t already in Vista.

If you’re running Windows XP, you’re just fooling yourself if you think delaying until Windows 7 will change your life. The user interface in Windows 7 does not look like Windows XP, it looks like Vista. If a device is supported in Vista, it’s supported in Windows 7 – and if something isn’t supported in Vista, nothing about Windows 7 will change that.

I installed Windows 7 over the weekend and I’ll be looking at the new features of the OS and Internet Explorer 8, but the first thing I’ll have to do is find them, because on first glance it looks almost exactly like a Vista desktop.

The beta program is free and open to anyone. Microsoft has removed any limits on the number of participants. You can download and install a free copy of Windows 7 Ultimate that will run until August 2009.

But Windows 7 should not be installed on any computer that is being used to do work! During the next eight months there will be many new drivers and fixes released and many web sites will be redesigned for compatibility. By the time the final product is released, almost all of that will be done and incorporated into the released OS as much as possible to create a seamless experience for you. It’s not at that point yet! The notes on the beta site are clear and straightforward:

  • “You’ll need some technical skills, like knowing how to:

    • “Burn an ISO file to make an install DVD (A good example of what we mean by “technical”)

    • “Install Windows (of course)

    • “Backup and restore your PC (There’s a chance of losing files, so it’s a good idea to do a backup of anything you want to save.)

    • “Set up a network

    It can be glitchy – so don’t use a PC you need every day.”

    I installed Windows 7 on a virtual machine where the installation was flawless – incredibly quick to install and instant recognition of every bit of hardware. I installed it on my laptop and couldn’t get Dell’s software for the Verizon mobile card to install. I’m pretty helpless with the laptop without that ubiquitous Internet connection. When I found out that my remote support software, LogMeIn Rescue, won’t run on Internet Explorer 8, I gave up for now and put the laptop back to what it was.

    Which deserves a side note. I did that with the “Complete PC Backup and Restore” feature in Vista Business and Vista Ultimate, the same one built into Windows 7. It creates an image of the computer on an external hard drive that can be used to restore the computer within minutes to a prior state. After I made that backup, I let Windows 7 format the hard drive and wipe out everything on the laptop. When I decided to bail out of Windows 7, I was able to restore the laptop in about ten minutes to exactly the position it had been earlier in the evening as if it had never been touched. There’s some great techology in Vista, I’m telling you!

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