I’ve spoken before about my disdain for Microsoft’s flagship operating system, Windows 6.0 (Vista), before. Vista took nearly six years to develop, and the only things it really added over its Windows 5.1 (XP) predecessor were some eye candy and things that annoy the users—you know, things like the constant UAC prompt, bugs, and incompatibilities. Most of the groundbreaking promised features, like the WinFS file system and such (the things that get nerds happy) were scrapped from the system entirely. Apparently six years isn’t long enough to produce a compelling update from either the technical or usability standpoint.

Real-world Windows 6.0 (Vista) experiences are a mixed bag. Roughly 50 percent of people I know that run Vista daily are happy with it and have had minimal problems. The remaining 50 percent, however, have had problems worse than any previous version of Windows had ever given them. Some of those people worked through these problems, installing service packs and engaging in earnest troubleshooting, and finally became happy Vista users. Most, however, upgraded back to Windows 5.1 (XP), switched to Mac, or switched to Ubuntu Linux happily.

Has Microsoft learned from their mistakes? It looks like they might have. The next version of Windows, which will return to the venerable tradition of logical naming, might actually be a compelling and worthwhile update called Windows 7. (Of course, for reasons I don’t understand, Windows 7 will be code-versioned as 6.1—come on Microsoft, you’re so close to fixing the versioning/naming insanity that you started with Windows 95, just go all the way and make it Windows 7 everywhere!)

What will Windows 7 offer? Well, the promise is that it will be less annoying (fewer UAC prompts), more stable, usable on a wider variety of hardware (even underpowered ‘netbooks’), and incorporate many usability features that Apple and various Linux implementations have had for years. In light of Microsoft’s propensity to over-promise and under-deliver, I’ll believe it when I see it. But the screenshots sure look great, and I’m cautiously optimistic that the giant from Redmond has finally awoken.

Does this mean that I might be switching back to Windows? Don’t bet on it. But it benefits everybody when the competition heats up, so improvements in Windows will drive improvements on all other platforms as well.

Scott Bradford has been building web sites and using them to say what he thinks since 1995, which tended to get him in trouble with power-tripping assistant principals at the time. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from George Mason University, but has spent most of his career (so far) working on public- and private-sector web sites. He is not a member of any political party, and brands himself an ‘independent constitutional conservative.’ In addition to holding down a day job and blogging about challenging subjects like politics, religion, and technology, Scott is also a devout Catholic, gun-owner, bike rider, and music lover with a wife, two cats, and a dog.