Ah, Windows 7. I remember that – didn’t it come after Windows 6?
There was never a Windows 6, you fool. Windows 7 is the follow-up to Microsoft’s current desktop operating system, Windows Vista and it’s released this week.

Oh right, is that the one that no one liked?
That might be a bit unfair but it does seem that businesses in particular failed to embrace Vista, with take-up continuing to be sluggish more than two years after its launch.

It sounds like there’s a lot riding on Windows 7 then…
Clearly, Windows 7 will need to wipe away the bad memories of Vista if it’s going to be a success.

It looks like the software behemoth is already putting Vista behind it: Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has even stated that he doesn’t mind if businesses skip the OS as long as they come back for Windows 7.

So what’s Microsoft done to make Windows 7 into a winner?
On the face of it, Windows 7 actually looks fairly similar to Vista – and uses the same Windows kernel, which should help minimise compatibility issues with software and devices. That said, there are big changes around usability and curing the operating system of Vista’s perceived ills.

Windows 7 is more than just a Vista service pack according to the company, with new features that Microsoft says will make it easier to connect to corporate networks as well as support for multitouch operations.

So what Vista foibles does Microsoft claim Windows 7 solves?
Microsoft says things like speeding up the start-up and shut-down time (although tests by one company claim that Vista is often quicker to boot than its successor).

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Windows 7 may not be as quick as Vista when it comes to start up times
(Screenshot credit: Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

Microsoft has also been working with computer makers to improve system performance in general, including more rapid recovery from problems if they occur, and power-saving features to help extend battery life.

Windows 7 users should get fewer interruptions while carrying out tasks: features such as the User Account Control function, which frequently opened dialogue boxes, have also been addressed and now users should be able to specify how often the system warns them about changes being made to their computer.

There’s also a redesigned taskbar if that’s your thing.

Sounds good. Where can I use my Windows 7?
Well, Microsoft has said it’s aiming to bring Windows 7 to everything from high-end multitouch devices to low-end hardware including netbooks, with the aim of making its appeal as broad as possible.

Hardware makers have already been showing off their Windows 7 machines ahead of the launch – for example, last week Acer unveiled a dual-boot netbook with Android and Windows 7.

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Acer’s dual boot Aspire One D250 netbook will run Windows 7
(Screenshot credit: Acer)

So when can we get our hands on Windows 7?
A beta version was made available for download on 10 January and Microsoft even extended the deadline for testers to get their hands on it due to popular demand.

A release candidate followed in May, allowing users to get their hands on a test version of the new operating system. The release candidate, available as a free download from Microsoft, was made available until August and evidently proved popular – last month, it notched up one per cent of the world’s desktops, according to figures from web analytics company NetApplications.

However, the release candidate will only keep working until early next year, at which point, users will need to get themselves a fresh copy of Windows 7 proper.

Handy then, that the official launch of Windows 7 is nigh – on 22 October, consumers will be able to buy the first laptops with Windows 7 pre-installed.

Despite not being officially released until Thursday, the OS has already been proving popular – selling out in some countries’ Amazon stores when it became available as a pre-order.

Are businesses being as enthusiastic?
Unlikely. A silicon.com CIO Jury found a cautious approach among CIOs, with just one of the IT chiefs polled saying they plan to adopt the operating system in 2010, with 2011 cited as a likely rollout date by a number of tech bosses.

Analyst Gartner has warned however that businesses should be starting to test and plan for Windows 7 now – whether they plan to roll it out any time soon or not – and advises that companies should plan to be onto Windows 7 by the end of 2012.

I bet they’ll need to start thinking about Windows 8 before too long!
Funny you should say that – Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is certainly already planning for it, telling a recent conference in London that Windows 8 will have improved management and voice recognition as development priorities, while there has also been speculation that it may feature a 128-bit architecture. Watch this space.