More than five years in the making, Microsoft released Windows Vista in early 2007. While it promised many new features and improvements, Vista has been plagued by negative reactions from both home and corporate users. The primary complaints include sluggish operation, annoying user interface and security controls, a confusing array of versions and a high cost.

While most home consumers that purchased new PCs over the past two years received Vista pre-installed (over 350 million), many home PCs are still running XP, or even earlier, software. And in the corporate world, more than 80 percent of IT departments have stayed with XP.

Now Microsoft is ready to release a new operating system version called Windows 7 aimed at addressing the complaints about Vista. It will be available on new PCs and for upgrades on existing computers on October 22nd. The early word on the street is that Win7 hits the target and will be a huge improvement over Vista.

I have to confess that all my computers (except a netbook) were purchased before Vista came out and that I have not upgraded them; I’m still running XP. Though serviceable, most of my PCs are definitely showing their age. While I had received a review copy of Win7 a while ago, I have been putting off installing it. However, so many people have been asking me about Win7 that I decided to bite the bullet, upgrade one PC and report on what I found.

The upgrade from XP is essentially a complete erasure of all files and installation from the ground up: first a drive reformat, then installing Windows 7, then reinstalling all programs and drivers, and finally copying back all your documents and other files. Make sure you have all your original disks, or copies of all programs downloaded on an external drives, as well as all your registration keys.

The Win7 install itself is easy, but the total process is both cumbersome and painful; it can easily take a whole weekend before you’re up and running again. The upgrade for Vista users is a much simpler and quicker process.

Once the installation was complete, the machine recognized all my peripheral devices and everything ran quite smoothly. I did need to input a few networking settings to make it work on my home network and connect to the Internet.

Performance: Even on my somewhat elderly PC (at the bottom end of recommended specs needed for Win7), the system felt quicker and more responsive than XP. Though some of this may be the result of cleaning out old crud, Win7 itself clearly seems to operate more crisply, with fewer steps to get things done and less waiting. In my case, boot-up and shutdown  time was less than half of what it took before the upgrade and apps seemed to start much more quickly.

User experience: There is a bit of a learning curve as a number of key interface elements have changed, but it doesn’t take long to realize that these are truly great improvements.  If you’re like me and usually run with many open programs and windows, the Aero interface smartly helps manage your focus and move between windows, staying out of your way and making it easier to get things done. The taskbar has been overhauled into a launch bar with preview peeks and with  jumplists that provide quick access to frequently used programs and files. Finally, many typically complicated settings have been greatly improved, such as one-click Wi-Fi connections and better backup and restore.

Other new features: There’s a new file explorer with a truly great search tool. Win7 has also added virtual folders called “Libraries” that make it easier to categorize files, find them, and share them. Home networking has been vastly simplified through “homegroups.” And on the security front, Win7 has also greatly improved its firewall capabilities as well as the tools that let you manage it.

Pros: Snappy performance. Crisp, attractive, compelling interface. Actually useful and timesaving new features like Aero Peek, new taskbar, jumplists, libraries and search. Microsoft has announced a “family pack” option that allows three PCs to be upgraded to the Home Premium edition for $149.

Cons: Painful upgrade from XP. Confusing array of version options and pricing. Some applications (like e-mail) do not come with the OS, requiring you to download them. Potential limitations on device driver support upon release.

Bottom line: Windows 7 appears to be a winner—correcting most of what was wrong with Vista. But users running XP (or earlier) may want to avoid the hassle of upgrading and wait until they need to replace their computers, getting a new PC installed with Win7. If you’re looking for one now,  wait until the end of October. I expect that the huge corporate base of XP machines will begin to transition to Win7 in the near future.

Roman Lubynsky is a technology consultant based in Boston. A frequent speaker and writer on technology topics, he has an MS in Management of Technology from MIT.  Roman can be reached at roman@lubynsky.com.