It's a downgrade from its predecessor, introduces no killer features and is regarded by some as a cynical attempt by Microsoft to squeeze more money from us. The release of a new desktop operating system (OS) is always a hot topic among PC enthusiasts, but this time Microsoft has failed to provide us with a major incentive to make the switch. Furthermore, those who've taken the plunge have expressed their dislike for the interface and reported incompatibilities with essential software.

The year is 2001, and the OS is Windows XP - Microsoft's flagship product that eventually went on to win the hearts and minds of computer users to such an extent that it has become the most popular Windows OS of all time. But those who swear by it will be disappointed to learn that by the end of 2009 it will have been taken out of circulation, as part of the Redmond giant's plan to drag customers kicking and screaming into the Windows Vista age.

The above reminder of the frosty reception with which XP was greeted is useful for those considering Vista as their next OS. New versions of Windows are rarely well received at launch, and Vista suffered from many of the same teething problems as its predecessor. Nevertheless, while the anti-XP sentiment died down after a few months, Vista remains public enemy number one two years after its release.

All of which provides Microsoft with a tricky balancing act this year - it needs to phase out XP, boost demand for Vista and build anticipation for Windows 7, all at the same time. In fact, given that XP is still available on new computers from a number of suppliers, new PC buyers and those looking to upgrade a current system have three viable OSes to choose from for the first time in years.

You could make a realistic case for selecting each product in 2009 - a major departure from the traditional approach of upgrading to the latest OS at the earliest convenience on the basis of its longer lifespan.

This month we compare all three Microsoft products, establishing who should stick with XP, who should upgrade to Vista and who should wait for Windows 7. With a variety of factors to take into account - flagship features, varying levels of security, performance differences and Microsoft's support lifecycle - there's no one-size-fits-all answer. Pick up a copy of our May issue, on sale now, to read our verdict.

Internet-security suites: the showdown

Windows is so fundamental to our computing experience that choosing a particular version will always provide a few headaches. But a choice of three alternatives is nothing when you consider the countless options we face when buying other essential software products.

Internet-security suites are a case in point. Everyone knows they need one, but how do you choose between the products available, particularly when making the wrong decision could make your PC susceptible to a malware attack?

We've taken the stress out of that decision this month by putting the nine leading internet-security suites through their paces using a punishing set of tests in laboratory conditions. We've enlisted the expertise of independent security software experts AV-Test, whose experienced technicians pitted the cream of 2009's antivirus products against a zoo of more than 600,000 backdoor apps, worms, Trojans and password stealers, as well as 46,000 adware samples.

This comprehensive group test establishes which of the current crop of products can lay claim to being the world's best security suite. Pick up a copy of our May issue, on sale now, for more details.