After the comitragedy that was The Vista Experience, Microsoft this week begins the Windows 7 era. While we will continue to be battered with “I’m a PC” ads, the beta release of Windows 7 marks the (legal) debut of the successor to the Redmond, WA, company’s much-maligned operating system. "We are on track to deliver the best version of Windows ever, we are putting in all the right ingredients -- simplicity, reliability and speed and working hard to get it right and to get it ready," said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer during his CES keynote. So far, reviews have tended towards the positive. Windows 7 is by all accounts faster and less intrusive than Vista, with the annoying User Account Control interrupting your actions much less frequently; it is now also scalable. Windows 7 is also apparently more forgiving of lower-end systems than Vista was. It is also more energy efficient – shutting off ports when not in use – and kinder to battery life.

Driver detection and installation is much improved, as well, as is device management and troubleshooting. Menus have also been simplified.

The beta is limited to 2.5 million users, and will expire August 1, after which users will have to roll back to a previous Windows iteration if Windows 7 is not publicly available by then (it might not be launched until 2010). Upon public release, eligible Vista owners will be able to upgrade to 7 for free.

Windows 7 beta can be downloaded here.

By Mark Alvarez