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Fight to the Finish
Vista - quite possibly the worst received OS in the history of computers. From the very start, not only were people skeptical, but early testing showed the behemoth OS to be not only sluggish, but also extremely RAM-heavy with little advantage in the form of user operation. The graphic overhaul was nice, but not nearly enough to compensate for the compendium of problems that people seemed to encounter with Microsoft's latest patience-testing version of Windows. And so, Vista was released to little fanfare and had its reputation destroyed over the next several months thanks to the efforts of bloggers, the news, and blunders by Microsoft itself. Talks of a paid service pack, monthly updates that fixed more than seemed possible, and finally, the "downgrading" of Vista back to XP all but sealed its fate as an abject failure in a long line of reputable Windows products. An ill-advised ad campaign with Jerry Seinfeld was also brought down quickly and replaced after Apple realized that just by mocking the PC, they could triple their sales.
All in all, Vista was the apex of dark times at Microsoft, times where it clearly seemed that the development team didn't care about the consumer because MS was on top of its game after the release of XP. It seems that Vista has clearly helped Bill Gates and Company realize that people will find alternatives (Linux and OSX) when the status quo is not as great as it once was. With great humility comes the realization of a truly great product - and that product is Windows 7. Superior to its predecessor in virtually every way, 7 is the revival of the Windows line of products as well as a hope that all future products will be thought about this carefully.
With that in mind, let's compare some key aspects of Vista and Windows 7:
User-Friendliness and Installation
The first time I installed Vista, it took me a whole weekend to figure out why putting in new hardware would cause continuous blue screens. To put it into perspective, the first time I installed the Windows 7 beta, not only did it import ALL of my settings from Vista, it also worked, right from the beginning. This was such a refreshing change I could scarcely believe it when everything was working - it was truly a beautiful sight. Compared to the medieval settings and general ridiculous-ness of Vista, Windows 7 is a breath of fresh air. Don't want it bugging you about "permissions"? Turn them off. Think you got the whole anti-virus thing covered? Tell 7 that you can handle it.
The best part of all is the fact that the extremely well-designed interface works with you and not against you. Everything is within reach by two or three button clicks at the most. You'll find yourself being more productive just because everything is easier to use. The best part? Definitely the new internet-dubbed "super-bar" that replaced the old taskbar. The new windows that pop up when you mouse over the icons on the bottom are a welcome addition, and finally realizing that icons on the taskbar can themselves be self-contained launchers and windows proves that Microsoft really did call in some new people to think about this. You can add almost everything you'd want to the "super-bar", and hopefully with the release candidate coming out in April (fingers crossed), you'll be able to finally witness this new taskbar for yourself.
Speed and Reliability
The main gripe I've always had with Vista was the fact that it ran like a snail - because of the fact that it consumed so much RAM, you'd be sitting in front of a screen waiting an eternity for a program to load. Just as a sidebar for all the nay-sayers, I would have to wait more than 5 seconds for Firefox to load on a quad-core PC with 4 Gb of RAM, that's just absurd. Windows 7 does away with the massively heavy interface of Vista for something lighter that loads faster. While I didn't see an appreciable decrease in the size of the OS folder, the speed benefits were immediate - everything from small programs to graphics-intensive games were running better, faster, and more efficiently.
And finally, the main sticking point for me about Windows 7 is reliability. When I have a program crash, it doesn't take down the whole OS with it, as was often the case with Vista. Unexplained errors are practically nonexistent (that's right - even in the beta). I'm sure that there's a blue screen in Windows 7, but I've yet to see it, and it's been nearly 3 months since I've been using the Beta OS.
Overall, if I can leave you with one thing only, let it be this - if you're a frustrated Vista user, get Windows 7 when it comes out. You'll see the quality of your work increase, and less time dealing with tech support or dealing with unexplained issues means you can get back into the reason you started to use a computer in the first place, to improve your life.