We all knew it was coming, but now it feels real. With its debut to select developers in November, Windows 7 is no longer just a label but a real OS. And the public beta is expected this spring.

Those expecting a radical redo of Windows will be disappointed; Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and other company executives call it a fixed Windows Vista. And a fixed Vista will be welcome to users who found the operating system's security controls, new interface, and application compatibilities woes to be very off-putting. (Whether they'll like the revamped Windows 7 UI remains an open question - it's already received criticism.)

Windows 7 review

Windows 7 review - UAC changes

IT will like Windows 7 because by the time it ships in early 2010, the app compatibility issue will have resolved itself (by then, most apps will have been updated for Vista, which should make them work in Windows 7), the underlying platform will be much more stable and proven, and the revamped security interface should make it easier for IT to protect their businesses without worrying about users turning off security in protest - as happens in Vista.

With Windows 7, users can expect essentially the same performance as with Vista SP2, according to InfoWorld Test Center benchmarks. Given how much slower Vista was compared to Windows XP, that's a positive development. In its "pre-beta" form at least, Windows 7 looks to notably boot faster than Vista does.

Windows 7 is more than just a more-mature Vista. Microsoft plans to add new technology such as yet another version of its taskbar, streamlined file lists called libraries, and touch support, as well as improve some Vista features such as desktop gadgets and its backup facility that could outdo Apple's beloved Time Machine.