It's a quarter of a century since Apple introduced the world to the windows, icons, menu pointer (Wimp) interface, bringing to market an intuitive new way to control computers that inspired the point-and-click approach we still use today.
The very first Mac, released in January 1984, helped make computers accessible to a wider audience by abandoning the intimidating interfaces that were the norm. Of course, it was Microsoft that ultimately went on to dominate the operating system (OS) market with its own take on the Wimp interface; only as the Mac passed its 25th birthday were there signs that Apple's OS could begin to make a significant dent in Microsoft's monopoly.
Research by Net Applications found Mac OS exceeded 10 percent of the market for the first time since the early 1990s, helped no doubt by the unpopularity of Microsoft's flagship product, Windows Vista. All of which makes that OS's replacement, Windows 7, all the more important if Steve Ballmer's company is to retain its position as the preferred platform on your computer.
Fortunately for Microsoft, the signs are good. The company made a beta version of Vista's successor publicly available in January, and hundreds of thousands of us are now trialling it. The general consensus is that it could help repair Windows' tarnished reputation, and it's the user interface that's getting much of the praise.
There's a new glassy Taskbar that simplifies your view of running apps, with one icon representing each program and thumbnails previewing each opened window; a less cluttered system tray, which hides icons for running apps; and jump lists, which pop up when you right-click on a taskbar app to provide a shortcut for accessing files. All are relatively minor tweaks to the Windows interface, but are much needed improvements in productivity and represent a triumph in substance over style.
Focusing on a tweaked interface provides only a superficial view of Windows 7, but it helps demonstrate that Microsoft doesn't have to introduce groundbreaking features akin to Apple's original Mac interface to improve productivity and keep Windows users happy with the platform.
Ultimately, we users will judge whether Windows 7 is a worthy upgrade. Beta testers in our Windows 7 forum, notorious for their loathing of its predecessor (see the Vista forum), have broadly backed the new OS. Faster boot times, improved compatibility with third-party apps and a boost to general performance are three of the key issues, PC Advisor readers believe.
The initial analysis is that Windows 7 performs well, and it is already winning over the all-important early adopters.
Extend your PC
All of which paints a glowing picture of Windows 7 - perhaps too much so, given that the OS may not be finished for up to a year. As we report in our April issue, many customers are bound to hold off on PC purchases until the product is available on new systems - and probably for a bit longer - so the emphasis on keeping your current machine ticking over has never been more important.
Our April issue, on sale today, gives you the tools to do the job. Whether you're sticking with an old workhorse while waiting for Windows 7, or are one of the many who plan to run an older version of Windows indefinitely, we show you how ?you can make your computer as good as new.