The countdown to Windows 7 has begun. The first test-code version of Microsoft’s next operating system (OS) got its public airing, at least to Windows developers, at the end of October.

Now, every PC user wants to know whether the product can right all the wrongs inflicted by Windows Vista.



The early signs are promising. Although we’re perhaps 18 months away from seeing the final version, the pre-beta code suggests Microsoft has taken Vista criticism on board and is planning an OS that’s altogether less annoying.

It says a lot about Microsoft’s strategy that, rather than boasting about the flashy new features that are going in, the company is talking more about the things that are either being stripped out or put on a leash.

For instance, every Vista user will know about the nagging security feature User Account Control (UAC). Even Microsoft execs now admit that it was one of Vista’s “most controversial” features, and that its “unnecessary or duplicated prompts” convinced many people to disable it. UAC still exists in Windows 7, but it’s less of a pest and easier to adjust.

Then there’s compatibility. As Windows 7 is based on the same technical underpinnings as Vista, the newer OS shouldn’t require new drivers for peripherals: if something works with Vista, it should work with Windows 7. And there’s less of an emphasis on bundling a plethora of rarely used applications – if you want Microsoft’s basic email, photo gallery and video-editing tools, you’ll be free to download them from Windows Live Essentials, but they won’t be preinstalled by default.

Other changes have been made to the look and feel of the OS, although Microsoft isn’t boasting about 3D interfaces and flashy effects. The Taskbar gets an overhaul, but the redesign appears more subdued than in previous versions.

All of this paints a positive picture of Windows 7, but it pays to be careful when evaluating software previews. Cast your mind back to the months and years leading up to Vista’s launch, and many commentators predicted the OS would be a big step forward. This month I took a quick look at our own coverage of the build-up to Vista’s launch, and saw that we described the OS as Microsoft’s “super-slick replacement for Windows XP”. We also concluded that the long delays in getting Vista out the door were due to the software giant “taking the time to ensure its new product is up to scratch”. It’s probably fair to say we were wrong on both counts.

So, while we’ve got the first screenshots of Windows 7 and more details about other new features in our January issue, nobody’s in a position to draw too many conclusions yet. We’ve got a full preview of the pre-beta lined up for next month’s issue – in the meantime, check out our in-depth online Windows 7 review for continuing coverage of Windows 7 as more information about the OS becomes available.

Treat yourselves

Although the jury’s still out on Windows 7, this month’s issue includes plenty of products that we can endorse. We’re now in the peak sales period for computing and consumer electronics goods, and our Ultimate buyers’ guide should give you a few ideas for your next purchase. Whether you’re buying a present for a friend or family member or you’re on the lookout for a new gadget for yourself, pick up a copy of our January issue to find out which products top our list.

Visit PC Advisor's dedicated Windows 7 News Spotlight for the latest on Microsoft's upcoming successor to Vista

Visit PC Advisor's dedicated Microsoft News Spotlight for the latest news on the software giant