Few periods in Microsoft's existence have been as bruising as the past two-and-a-half years. Ever since the company shipped Windows Vista, it's been one public relations catastrophe after another. First, there were the instabilities -- wave after wave of bad press about buggy drivers and spotty backward compatibility. Then came the revolt, with users demanding that Microsoft extend the life of Windows XP indefinitely in a tacit rejection of the company's Vista road map.
It looked like the end was nigh for Microsoft's desktop hegemony. Vista would be the albatross that finally brought the company down, ushering in a new era of platform-independent applications running on Linux or Mac OS X. Apple, in particular, made hay with Vista's troubles, lampooning the unpopular OS in a series of well-crafted TV spots. These truly were heady times for those banking on Microsoft's demise.
[ Editor's note: This article is a slightly updated version of "Windows 7 RTM: The revenge of Windows Vista." Benchmark results of the previous article were based on Windows 7 Build 7200. We have updated the article with the results for Build 7600. ]
Of course, the Redmond giant had other plans. As Vista was floundering in the marketplace, the Windows development team, under new leader Steven Sinofsky, was feverishly at work on Vista's successor. And true to his pragmatist reputation, Sinofsky focused the team on fixing Vista's ills -- as opposed to adding lots of new features -- and delivering a successor that would eliminate the usability quirks and the code bloat that had given Vista such a bad reputation.
Did Microsoft succeed? Feedback from users who have tried the new OS have been uniformly positive, with most testers reporting a better overall computing experience than with Vista. Windows 7 has already become an overnight hit, with each new review of a leaked pre-release build adding to a growing sense of anticipation for the product's impending Release to Manufacturing (RTM). And now that the product has finally left beta -- Microsoft is signing off on the final RTM bits as I write this -- it's time to take stock of this new, improved iteration of the much-maligned Vista architecture.
Does Windows 7 really right the wrongs committed against the IT community by Windows Vista? And more to the point, is the product's combination of new features and long-overdue fixes enough to sway IT shops to finally abandon Windows XP? In this article, I take a look at Windows 7 from several angles, including critical issues like security, reliability, and performance. Along the way, I compare Windows 7's functionality to its immediate predecessor, Windows Vista, as well as to the real target of Microsoft's newest OS: the venerable Windows XP, the most successful OS in history.