It's been a couple of years since Microsoft released the much-maligned Vista operating system. It was supposed to be the crème de la crème, the operating system extraordinaire, the piece de la resistance.
It was not. Now they are getting ready to do it all over again.
Windows 7 is scheduled to be released later this year or early in 2010. It came out in beta form last week. That is an unfinished, unpolished version for consumers to test on a temporary basis. I'll tell you how to try it in a moment, but first: Version 7?
By my count, it began with Windows 1.0 in 1983; then there was 2.0, 3.0, 3.1, 95, 98, Millennium, XP Home, Vista and Version 7. You can add to that another XP version (Pro) plus the Media Center release. There was Windows NT, Windows 2000 and the Tablet edition. So not counting all the various Vista incarnations, there were really more than a dozen.
I'm not certain how they got to Windows 7, but you can download it here. In order to get the key (the 25-digit alphanumeric code needed to install it), you will need to register with Microsoft first.
Keep in mind, this is not meant for you to replace what operating system you're using now. It's for you to try, to test, to see what it's like. Genuine beta testers report back to Microsoft what they like and what bugs they find. They will find some, and so will you. So don't expect it to be flawless. It is not.
Follow the directions carefully. It comes as an .iso file which needs to be burned to a DVD. From that you can install it. Initially Microsoft said they'd allow 2.5 million of us to try it. They have since changed that and gave us until Feb. 10 to download it. It will remain functional until Aug. 1.
Going back, it all began with version 1.0 which gave us the Graphical User Interface. We could, for the first time, click icons instead of typing command lines. I jumped on board at Version 3.1 and quickly bought Windows 95. It was "enhanced" and had plug and play.
Win 98 introduced us to USB support. I think Win ME was released just because it was after all, the millennium. I found nothing of value in it. No, I take that back. I used the CD as a coaster on my desk.
XP Pro was the best thing to date, in my opinion. It recognized practically whatever you threw at it. It configured e-mail accounts and Internet connections almost by itself. It was, and is, faster than anything we have seen.
Vista was a bomb. It is all smoke and mirrors. It has fancy features but they are used at the expense of speed. The glass-like Aero interface and flipping 3-D folders makes the system sluggish to the point of frustration.
Windows 7 is supposed to the best of both worlds: fast and pretty. I think Microsoft has seen the writing on the wall. Many computers users, so disappointed with Vista were switching to the Mac, trying Linux or considering OSX.
As far as I can tell from my personal beta testing, there are some nice changes. Hopefully, by the time the full version of Win 7 is released, the wrinkles will be ironed out.
This new Windows seems to manage memory better than its predecessor. There are more drivers included in the installation. When complete, I wasn't looking for device drivers, wondering why there was no sound or why I had no Internet connection. I had Internet and I could hear it.
The task bar is now more icon-based. The system is easier to shut down. I never could figure out why I had to click "Start" to stop.
The User Account Control is a sliding scale rather than simply on or off. The side bar is gone, but now there can be gadgets anywhere on the desktop we want them. Instead of pushing all those applications and utilities at us, now we will choose what we want to use and download things like Media Player and Mail from Microsoft's Web site.
Home networking has become HomeGrouping and makes it easier to share files, storage devices or printers.
So will I purchase Windows 7 when it is released? The jury is still out on that, but I'd say probably. As anxious as I was to obtain the beta version, I'll be a bit more cautious with the real thing, especially since I'll be paying for it.
Knowing that even the final release will still be somewhat buggy, I'll most likely wait for the first service pack (SP1) to be released before I get it.
Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician in Gainesville. His column appears biweekly. Arthur welcomes your computer questions and ideas for future columns.