By the time you read this, Windows 7 may have been released to manufacturing (RTM), so it's time to take a first peek at what Windows 7 brings to the table, and what it doesn't.

First, let me shock the morons who think when I see any Microsoft product I have an automatic "kick-it" reflex. Sorry guys, but that's never been true. I've always seen my job as being like a baseball umpire's. Regardless of how I feel, I call balls and strikes the way I see them. In the case of Microsoft for the last few years they've been throwing nothing but wild-pitches.

But, with Windows 7, which I first thought would be little more than the Vista pig with lipstick. I was wrong. With Windows 7, Microsoft finally has a new, decent client operating system again.

I've been using Windows 7 in virtual machines, thanks to VirtualBox, and on native hardware for months now. My main Windows 7 test machine is a Gateway DX4710. This PC is powered by a 2.5-GHz Intel Core 2 Quad processor and has 6GBs of RAM and an Intel GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) 3100 for graphics. It's fast, but it's nothing that fancy.

On both the virtual and the real PCs, I've found that Windows 7 works well. Even back in January, the Windows 7 beta was already better than Vista. Vista has been 'upgraded' with SP2 since then, and you know what? Windows 7 in beta is still better than Vista.

In particular, I've found that Windows 7 to be more stable than Vista and to get along with far more hardware out of the box. I've used most popular Windows business and home software on Windows 7, along with a few games like Guild Wars. And they've all worked well.

In short, if you're running Vista, and you're sure you won't get a Mac or desktop Linux a try, you should replace it as soon as possible. If, you're running XP SP3, however, I don't see any compelling reason to switch.

Windows 7, unlike Vista, works well enough, but, so does XP SP3. Windows 7 also has quite a different look and feel from SP3. I could see most XP users having almost as much trouble re-learning how to use their computer with Windows 7 as they would if they moved to a Mac or to say Ubuntu Linux.

That was the good news. Now, here's the rest of the story.

Windows 7 is good, but it's not great. No matter how Microsoft spins it, Windows 7 is not suitable for a netbook. It's lighter than Vista was in terms of its impact on system resources, but then, what isn't? If you want a cheap netbook with decent performance, you want Linux. And, if you want one after Windows 7 starts shipping, you'll want to check ones running Moblin or Google Chrome OS.

Microsoft will also made Windows 7 both expensive, outrageously expensive in Europe and, with its multiple versions, confusing to buyers.

Come on Microsoft, it's all the same operating system. Do you really need to charge us extra for what feels like every last lousy feature? For all that Microsoft tries to convince people that Apples and Macs are more expensive, at least with Mac OS X, you get the entire package.

You should also never forget that no matter what Microsoft says about Windows 7 being more secure, Microsoft has yet to actually make it more secure. Heck, MyDoom, a nasty piece of malware from 2004, still infects Windows PCs from XP to Windows 7. If you run Windows, you're running a system that's permanently insecure due to its 1990s' single-user, non-networked design.

Last, but never least, if you buy Windows 7, you're locking yourself into Microsoft's expensive software eco-system. In the short run, the Linux desktop is always cheaper, and, over the long run, so are Macs.

All that said, Windows 7 is a real improvement over Vista. From where I sit, in terms of quality, Microsoft should be back to being a .500 club. I still see Macs and desktop Linux as being better, but, at least with Windows 7, Microsoft operating system users have something to cheer about again.