Sure, Windows 7 is a better Windows than Vista, but it would have been much less so in December 2006 when Vista was released. Enough adjustment to Vista has happened that Windows 7 won't be as imposing a change.
I'm coming to the belief that Windows 7 is basically Vista 1.5 - a
notably upgraded, but not substantially different, product. But the
passage of time and "work" done by Vista has freed Windows 7 from the
disrepute of its predecessor.
My sense of the complaints about Vista is that the two biggest ones
had to do with UAC (User Access Control) and lack of support for
devices. Microsoft compromised some on UAC in Win7
(that compromise led to some controversies
-I think they caved in to bad PR, they see it differently) but the basic principle of UAC in Windows 7 is the same.
The real problem that UAC tries to solve is when third-party
software requires privileged access. In almost all cases, there are
ways to do what the software needs to do without requiring privileged
access or, in the alternative, segregating the privileged components
into a service and communicating securely with it. This is, for
instance, how Automatic Updates works on your system without requiring
you to provide administrator credentials.
People at Microsoft have told me that the main point of UAC was to
nag ISVs (independent software vendors) into making their software more
secure by complying with these designs. More than two years after the
release of Vista a lot of this has happened. Consider Andrew Garcia's observation
of his own last week of Vista use: six UAC prompts, all when he
intentionally upgraded software. My own experience is similar. I run as
a standard user and I appreciate the prompts and there aren't a whole
lot of them.
Same with device drivers. New versions of Windows usually bring
changes in device support which themselves bring about a period of
unpleasantness, during which some devices work badly, or not at all.
Users are nervous about whether vendors will update the drivers for
their old devices for the new OS. I remember HP refused to issue Vista
drivers for many-an-old printer. For shame!
But many vendors did update their drivers, and devices sold since
Vista came out are highly likely to have Vista drivers. This is less of
a problem than it used to be, and therefore it will be less of a
problem for Windows 7. Microsoft has said that Windows 7 will not
change the Vista device driver model. Drivers that work on Vista should
work unmodified in Windows 7. That's not an absolute guarantee, since
device drivers can do just about anything, including things which are
OS version-specific; but any well-behaved Vista device driver should
work in Windows 7. Therefore, when Windows 7 hits the scene it will
enter a hardware environment in which it has broad support.
You can make an argument that Win7's UAC is better than Vista's, but
the real changes have come from ISV adoption of techniques which don't
invoke UAC. In this instance, and with respect to device drivers, it's
not that there's anything better about Vista, it's just that Win7 has
come after Vista (and Vista users) did the heavy lifting. In a way, if
Win7 ends up well-received, it's a vindication of Vista after all.
Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983.
For insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at eWEEK.com Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer's blog Cheap Hack.