On October 22, 2009, Microsoft will release the latest iteration of its Windows operating system to the world. It's an event that, for the tech community at least, resembles a major sporting occasion such as the FIFA World Cup - it only comes around every few years, and when it does, you're left nervous and uncertain about the outcome, but you're drawn in nonetheless.
This time around, that uncertainty may be heightened. Windows 7 comes on the back of 2007's Windows Vista - an ill-received operating system that, even to this day, remains subject to widespread ridicule, and survives - barely - in a sea of doubt and indifference. Such is the lack of Vista's popularity, that Microsoft's most widely used operating system remains Windows XP - a solution dating back close to the start of the new millennium.
Following a few rough years, Microsoft now finds itself in the hot-seat. Its army of fierce competitors - led by the likes of Apple and Google - continue to eat into the Redmond giant's market share and profits, and following the 2008 departure of former CEO Bill Gates, the new-look company hopes to deliver an operating system that will cement its hold on the market well into the next decade.
So long, Vista
But before we look at what Windows 7 actually is, let's reflect on what will soon fade into memory - Windows Vista. The much-maligned software, launched to retail in January 2007, promised to "wow" consumers. Unfortunately for Microsoft, it did everything but, and the software giant has had to carry the weight of Vista's perception on its shoulders for the best part of three whole years. That perception, however, is itself questionable. Windows Vista simply isn't a bad operating system, but it proved to be wrong for its time.
Despite its worth of billions, Microsoft and its 90,000-odd employees seemingly didn't foresee a dramatic growth in low-cost, low-power computers - systems on which the resource-hungry Vista found itself ill-equipped. Coupled with a handful of early performance issues and a lack of readily available drivers, Windows Vista quickly became synonymous with sluggish performance and poor hardware compatibility. For those reasons, among others, Vista's predecessor, Windows XP, remains prevalent to this day.
But the subsystem upgrades introduced in Vista - including new technologies such as SuperFetch, a new networking architecture, a new display-driver model and much more - were, and still are, crucial steps forward in the development of a modern-day Windows. Indeed, despite the public and media perception, Microsoft's belief in the underlying promise of Vista is so strong that the same core architecture resides in Windows 7. Consequently, and despite Microsoft publicly describing Windows 7 as a "significant release", the operating system is seen by the sceptics as another version of Vista, only highly polished and refined.
Those sceptics, in a sense, are absolutely correct. Windows 7 is largely based upon the underlying technologies of Vista. But such is the level of refinement, that the two releases are world's apart. To Microsoft's credit, it hasn't just tweaked Windows Vista here and there, it has polished every conceivable nook and cranny. The end result is an OS that isn't just an upgrade, it's a major step in the evolution of Windows.
With Vista on the way out, let's take a look at 7.