Microsoft's first demonstrations of its next desktop operating - Windows 7 - towards the end of last year were met with tentative approval by developers and analysts. But the first version was far from feature-complete, and a relatively small number of experts can achieve only so much in providing feedback to the software giant anyway. But now the Windows 7 beta is available to the public, meaning as many as 2.5m people will be using the software by the end of January. So, should you install it?

Microsoft's UK PR team demonstrated Windows 7's new features to me last Wednesday and, as is the norm, the company handed out activation keys to the UK press. So I managed to beat the rush and had a fully working version of Windows 7 on Friday - therefore I've had a full weekend playing with the new features and making a first analysis of its performance.

Windows 7 review

Windows 7: the public beta explained

Windows 7 forum

Microsoft has been careful to avoid the Vista-esque hype - describing Windows 7 as an incremental upgrade, rather the holy grail of operating systems. But first impressions are good - I've yet to experience any major problems with the OS, and am coming to terms with the interface tweaks. But let's start from the beginning.

Windows 7 hardware & software requirements

After downloading the Windows 7 beta (a 2.5GB download called Windows 7 Build 7000), your hardware and software will be tested for compatibility with the new OS. Windows 7's hardware requirements include a 1GHz 32-bit or 64-bit processor, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of available hard disk space, support for Direct X 9 graphics (with 128MB) memory and internet access.

So, any computer that can comfortably run Vista should be able to handle Windows 7 (including the Samsung laptop I installed it on - 1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7100, 2GB, 32-bit Vista).

windows 7

Microsoft also lists a DVD-R/W drive as a requirement because both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 7 are provided as .iso files, which need to be burned to DVD before being installed on your system. However, you can get around that using CD/DVD emulation software such as Daemon Tools Lite.

The compatibility check that ran when I installed Windows 7 informed me that Daemon Tools Lite wouldn't work with the new OS - not a major hassle once I'd made the upgrade. Other software incompatibilities included old versions of Adobe Reader and Pinnacle DistanTV as well as Microsoft's own Windows Live OneCare software suite, which the company plans to kill off later this year and replace with the free 'Morro' antivirus software.

Windows 7 installation

Windows 7: new features

Should I install Windows 7