As it happens I had been running a new install of Vista Ultimate on a new laptop, which was a Dell Studio 1737, Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz, 4 gig of RAM, 256 Mb ATi, 500 Gb SATA, 1920x1200 screen, etc etc, and the laptop itself is now about six months old.
So when a friend asked me for a copy of Windows 7, I spent a couple of days wondering whether to simply reinstall Vista Ultimate (x86) or take a change on 7 Ultimate (x86).
In the end I decided to do a decent backup to the backup partition and give Windows 7 a whirl.
Here are my observations on UPGRADING a working (but getting slightly flaky) Windows Vista Ultimate (x86) install on what is basically a desktop replacement laptop which I use for everything from CAD to browsing, to Windows 7 Ultimate (x86).
Obviously a new (vanilla) install will be different.
I did the upgrade by popping the Win7 DVD into the drive while in the normal Vista session, and running setup.
The user interface was fairly simple, you get to choose an Upgrade or a Clean install, and then you just click "go".
Apart from that, the only choice I had to make was the default language, English US or English GB.
The installer then does a compatibility check, which warned about Daemon tools and the IDE driver, but offered to download any patches necessary.
Now you basically just sit back and wait, and in my case the whole install including 3 auto reboots and finally downloading and installing 1 critical and 14 recommended system updates from Windows Update took near as dammit 3 hours.
3 hours is, it has to be said, an inordinate amount of time for an OS upgrade, one of the Debian flavours will do the same job on this same laptop in around 20 minutes.
Having said that, the Windows 7 upgrade process did work absolutely flawlessly, everything works just as before, everything is in the same place as before, and everything feels more or less the same as before, barring a few minor UI changes, and of course the splash screen.
So, while the upgrade path gets very few points on speed, in all fairness the upgrade process must be awarded full points for both automation / lack of user input required, and for function, which, in my case at least, it worked perfectly.
No changes of any kind, nor any setting of any kind, needed to be re-input, even the secure wifi just worked.
As far as all the Dell Studio hardware (onboard wifi / bluetooth / card readers / etc) is concerned everything just worked as it did before.
The only thing missing from Windows 7 Ultimate that I liked in Vista Ultimate is Dreamscene, but that is "fixed" now after a short visit to http://windows7center.com/tutorials/how-to-enable-dreamscene-in-windows-7/ and downloading a small 340 kB app.
Quicklaunch is gone from the taskbar, but in hindsight I personally never used it. However the extreme right of the taskbar does the same job...
I found one anomaly in the desktop gadgets, in that with the desktop font size set to "medium" (125%) the default clock gadget and calendar gadget are also scaled up, which breaks the tidy look, but with the desktop font set to 100% everything looks neat as it did in Vista.
Overall there are some small changes in the UI (apart from a new set of icons) but it has to be said the changes are a lot smaller than the changes I noted in the recent Linux UI upgrade to KDE4, which to my mind "dumbed down" too much in order to get a clean look and feel.
If you are getting the impression that there is little apparent difference between Windows Vista Ultimate and Windows 7 Ultimate, you would be right, as far as the average user is concerned there is almost nothing in it, in many ways Windows 7 could have been branded as Vista SP2 and most average users would not have been any the wiser.
Undoubtedly down at code level there are significant differences, but the point that I wish to stress here is that Joe Public won't be seeing any of them.
There is therefore an argument to be made that there is little point in upgrading from Vista (or indeed XP) to 7.
Compared to the early Vista releases, which were plagued with speed problems when copying directories containing many small files, this 7 release is smooth, which is why I referred to it as feeling like Vista SP2.
One thing I will note, is that many comments have been made online about Windows 7 maxing out system RAM (which is only a bad thing if it refuses to release it to applications when required) which I must report no sign of, on this laptop (spec above) 29% of RAM is used as I type this, with my usual load of windows open and tasks running.
To be fair, it can be argued that I have only been running Windows 7 for a few hours now, come back when system uptime is >28 days.
Over all, I must award the Vista Ultimate (x86) > 7 Ultimate (x86) upgrade process itself 100% for function, and 5% for speed.