Ok, I'm officially a fanboy of Windows 7. I'll state that right up front.
The company that I work for, ConsultUSA is a Microsoft Certified Partner. That is my fancy way of saying that I was watching Steve Balmer's (CEO of Microsoft) keynote address at CES on one tab of firefox and hitting refresh on the MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) website on another waiting for windows 7 to show up as available to download.
That night I downloaded the x64 and x86 versions of the OS, created a partition on my laptop and installed the new OS. At first blush, I liked it. It kind of looks like Vista, but when I got under the hood a little, I realized the differences.
One of the nice features that Microsoft introduced in Vista was a system performance ranking system. You could run an analyzer on your PC and it would spit out a ranking of 1 - 4 in several different areas. This was one of the first things that I did when I loaded Windows 7. I do wish that I had the original Vista rankings on hand, but alas, I've since blown away the Windows 7 partition and upgraded Vista completely to Windows 7 and I cannot undo that, specifically just to get the performance ranking.
Alas, I can tell you that my performance increased in all areas, the biggest, not in size of jump, but because it was the biggest bottleneck on Vista was my graphic card performance. On Vista it was stuck at 2.5 on Windows 7 it is given... wait for it... wait for it... 2.7! I know, it's not ground breaking, except for the fact that Windows 7 itself takes fewer resources so it's able to get better performance out of the one system resource on a laptop that is really hard to upgrade. When I first got the laptop it had 1 gb of memory, the memory ranking was 2.5, I upgraded it to 2.5 gb and the performance went up to almost 4. Upgradable, easy peasy. Graphic cards... not so much.
The control panel on Windows 7 is another area that has been greatly improved. Not only is it a nicer layout and easier to find specific items in it. There are more items at your fingertips for managing this marvelous peice of technology.
The one thing that I've discovered that I don't like, primarily because it is frustrating my wife, is that the show desktop has been moved and the nature has been changed. It is no longer an icon on the shortcut bar it is a little section of the taskbar itself, on the right hand side of the bar. Well, as fate would have it, I have a slanted table that fits over the arm of my chair in the living room(just because I do some work at home doesn't mean I have to be away from my family.) I also have a wireless mouse that has a tendency to slide down the slant and flop to its right side when you let go (darn that gravity!) It is frustrating when it does that because the mouse pointer automagically flys to the exact point of the show desktop area.
Ok, so I mentioned that the nature of the show desktop had changed. Now when you hover over the show desktop, it... shows the desktop. If you move the mouse everything comes back as normal, but just hovering shows it. If you want to minimize all of the windows to interact with the desktop, just click that area and everything stays minimzed, just as before.
One of the nicest new features of windows 7 though is the ability to attach programs right to the task bar. This becomes their perminent place on the bar. They've also changed the size of the programs there to be the size of the programs icon. So, for instance. I currently have IE, Visual Studio 2008, Firefox, Thunderbird, Zune and a couple other programs pinned to the task bar. I can click on Thunderbird, and it opens up, it doesn't create a new spot on the taskbar, it already has one and lives on that one spot. At that point it behaves just like an open program from the previous OS's, click the icon while its open it minimizes, while it's minimized, it opens.
Ultimately, Microsoft is in the process of hitting a home run and I say, thank you. I may have been the minority and didn't hate Vista, but even I will not go back. I'm looking forward to the full RTM version as soon as it hits stores.