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Windows reality check

Six months on from Windows Vista's consumer release and Microsoft has finally admitted that sales of the new OS have failed to live up its bullish predictions. So what's behind the apparently indifferent attitude to what was supposed to be the most important Windows release of all time?

Dozens of Vista PCs and laptops have been through the PC Advisor Test Centre over the past six months and we've failed to spot major operating system-related problems with any of them. Those Vista issues that we have picked up on seem to occur either when people upgrade their previous XP PC, or when they connect an ageing peripheral to a Vista PC only to find the drivers haven't been updated to allow the two to work together. Other than that, we regard the OS as a decent upgrade and most members of our Windows Vista forum seem to agree with us.

And yet Microsoft revealed in July that it expects XP sales to be nearly 50 percent higher over the next 12 months than it originally estimated, with a higher than expected number of PC buyers preferring the older, cheaper OS to its more handsome sibling. It's possible that Microsoft was overly ambitious with its projection for Vista sales because previous stats from the company indicated that the OS was flying off the shelves. Microsoft said it shipped 40 million copies of Vista during its first 100 days on sale - more than double the number of XP copies sold during the first three months of its availability.

But even those who stand to benefit most from marketing Vista as the Holy Grail of computing have criticised Microsoft's creation. According to Acer president Gianfranco Lanci, the whole industry is disappointed with Vista, which, he said, is riddled with problems. Comments like this hardly inspire customers to rush out and buy a laptop or desktop PC.

And the case for upgrading has been slightly undermined by Microsoft's confirmation that it plans to replace Vista in just three years. As we report in our October 07 issue, the next version of Windows - currently codenamed Windows 7 - will be with us in 2010, according to Microsoft's roadmap. This will tempt many buyers to skip Vista altogether and jump straight to its successor.

Anyone frustrated by Vista's constantly slipping release date during the five years leading up to its launch will know better than to trust a Microsoft roadmap. However, many believe that Windows 7 will be a minor upgrade rather than an overhaul. Research firm Gartner predicts that Windows 7 will be a date-driven release - it will ship in 2010 regardless of what state it's in, provided it's as secure and bug-free as is possible. Ultimately, however, details on the new features coming in Windows 7 are scarce.

Refresh Windows

Our advice remains consistent with what we said when Vista launched in January: if your current PC remains perfectly adequate for your needs and you can live without Vista's new features (click here for our full Windows Vista review), there's no compelling reason to get out the chequebook. But if you need a new PC now, have no qualms about buying one with Vista installed.

Whatever your decision, there's a wealth of essential advice in our October 07 cover feature to make sure you're getting the most out of your PC. We've put together 12 pages of tips that will revive your ageing XP machine, or make sure your new Vista machine keeps running at full pelt.

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