It's official: Windows 7 is practically done. The code paths are being frozen as we speak, and the final bits should be arriving on Oct. 22, just in time for the holiday shopping season. Of course, savvy users will have Windows 7 well before that date (think mid-July). The myriad torrent sites will see to it that anyone who wants to will be able to run the RTM (release to manufacturing) bits this summer; whether or not they'll be able to activate them in the absence of an RTM product key is another matter.
In almost every sense, Windows 7 is finished. Whatever happens between now and the RTM a few short weeks from now will be entirely cosmetic -- some tweaked branding here, a bug fix or compatibilty shim there. So, given my extensive history with the product, starting with the much-maligned PDC build and running through the latest leaked builds, I thought it time to revisit the OS in light of my nearly seven months of continuous use.
Here, in a nutshell, is what I think of Windows 7:
Usability: Much has changed since build 6801. Back at PDC, Microsoft had still not enabled the the full range of Windows 7 UI revisions. For example, the new Task Bar was MIA, as were many of the Windows 7-specific Aero goodies. And although some clever users were able to work around these limitations -- by hacking the build to allow these still unfinished features to be accessed -- the net result was uneven at best.
Fast-forward to today and the new Task Bar now feels like an old friend. Most of the more glaring kinks have been worked out, and -- as of build 7137, anyway -- it is as reliable and predictable as the old Task Bar. Likewise, the myriad Aero features. In fact, when using these latter builds taken from the Windows 7 RTM branch, it's very easy to forget you're running a pre-release OS. Add to this the fact that the new UI represents a leap forward in usability (even the Mac fanatics are giving it some begrudging respect), and it's hard to imagine anyone sticking with Vista once Windows 7 ships.