Could SOS write an article on the latest Windows 7 as soon as possible, and say whether in your view it's worthwhile to try it instead of Vista, or even XP?
SOS contributor Martin Walker replies: I've already discussed Windows 7 in my January 2009 PC Notes column, but as I said there, it's not been released yet. At the time I mentioned a likely release date of January 2010, but a few industry experts have since predicted that this may be moved forward to November 2009 to take advantage of the Christmas market, or even July 2009.
The general public have been able to download a full‑featured Beta version since January 9th 2009 (from www.microsoft.com/windows7), but this is only apparently available to the first 2.5 million people, and it expires on August 1st 2009. However, in my opinion no musicians should be running Beta versions of any software anyway, unless they are prepared to accept crashes and unexpected behaviour. Many users now seem to regard Beta software simply as a 'free download', but it's actually part of the development cycle before a new product is released to the public. First the developers release an Alpha version (normally only available to internal staff) to test that all serious bugs have been eradicated, and then a Beta version is typically released to a limited number of testers outside the company to root out any further incompatibility problems.
A new operating system like Windows 7 faces installation on an almost infinite variety of PC hardware combinations, so it makes sense for Microsoft to let the public at large aid in Beta compatibility testing prior to its release. In direct response to your question, I'd say it's worth trying the Windows 7 Beta if you are desperate to see what's coming next from Microsoft, like taking a gamble, and are prepared to install it on a fresh partition alongside any existing Windows install, so that you don't have to rely on it for day‑to‑day use. Even on Microsoft's own web site they admit that the Windows 7 Beta "can be glitchy — so don't use a PC you need every day”. Possible problems include software that runs perfectly on Windows XP or Vista but won't run at all on Windows 7, hardware drivers that don't install for devices such as printers and audio interfaces, such that you can't use them at all, random BSOD (Blue Screen Of Death) problems, and possibly file corruption. Remember also that on 1st August 2009 the Beta will cease to run, and then you'll have to wipe your partition, buy the official release version (which may involve a wait of several more months), and install it from scratch, along with all your hardware drivers, software applications, and so on.
On the positive side, the feedback so far is that Windows 7 is more efficient than Vista, and smoother in operation. On the other hand, it's an incremental version of Vista rather than a completely new OS, and there are still audio software developers who have yet to release Vista‑compatible versions of their products. Moreover, some musicians have had problems running their audio interfaces with Windows 7, and it's unlikely that audio manufacturers will devote time to updating drivers until we can actually buy it. Rest assured that once Windows 7 is available to the public, we'll give it the coverage it deserves.