So, you all know my opinions of Windows 6.0 (Vista). It’s terrible, at least on any hardware that originally shipped with Windows 5.1 (XP) or right around the release of 6.0 (Vista). It’s acceptable on new hardware, and even downright decent on new hardware since Service Pack 1 came out. Decent, however, is still quite a lot behind contemporary Mac OS X, Ubuntu Linux, and even Windows 5.1 (XP) installations. As such, most businesses and attentive consumers have stuck with XP in hopes what Windows 7 will be better than Vista, or have begun switching to Windows alternatives.

But Windows users now have what looks like a light at the end of the tunnel. I expressed cautious optimism in October that Windows 7 would be a move in the right direction based on some screenshots and positive early reviews, and that cautious optimism has been reinforced throughout the development of Windows 7 so far. Most people who have had the opportunity to play with the new operating system from Microsoft have found it to be speedy, reliable, user-friendly, and—quite frankly—what Vista should have been all along. Best of all, unlike Vista, Windows 7 has a logical name (its version number; imagine that), has proceeded through its development process largely on-schedule, and hasn’t promised more that it can deliver.

Indeed, it does look like Microsoft is getting it. Windows 7 at this early stage looks like it’ll actually be on-par with its Mac OS and Linux competition.

In the coming week, Microsoft will be releasing the first ‘Release Candidate’ of Windows 7. While Microsoft has only committed to a final release in 2010, many pundits and observers see the Redmond company releasing the final product to manufacturers and retailers as early as this summer. It is heartening to find that Microsoft can, indeed, develop a quality product in a reasonable length of time. It is also heartening to know that even a behemoth like Microsoft gets a little shell-shocked when it makes a major blunder like Vista, and takes some drastic action to right itself.

Why am I happy? After all, I gave up on Windows a long time ago and use Mac OS X and Ubuntu Linux almost exclusively now for my personal computing. Well, competition is a good thing. If Windows gets really great, it’ll drive Apple and the many thousands of Linux developers to up their game a little more. It was Apple’s resurgence that drove the industry forward to where it is today, and a resurgent Microsoft will help drive the entire industry even further forward. Microsoft’s improvements to their once-wayward operating system ultimately has benefits across-the-board, even if you shy away from trusting Redmond with your computing needs.