Microsoft's history can be simply summarised. It made billions on the back of software that was in fact years behind the competition. What it did right, was to license the software for anyone who used a standard Intel architecture. This made it instantly poplar and useful for a lot of people. Others simply followed suit.
But Microsoft either always failed to make a great product for its time or never bothered. My money is on the latter. So many unpaid programmers making Linux the great operating system it is today must testify to that end.
It's easy to think that if Microsoft really wanted to, it has the resources to make the mother of all operating systems: small (comparatively), fast, stable, secure, bug free, easy to use, good to look at and pack full of useful features. Instead they came up with Vista.
It seams like Microsoft never really cared about its users more than it cared about planned obsolescence. I mean, making a product thats just good enough to keep your customer using it and still in need of the next upgrade may be Microsoft's only true skill.
But theres hope. You've heard of Linux. Maybe you've tried it, maybe you haven't. Linux is a derivative of Unix one of the oldest operating systems there is. But being old doesn't make Unix bad (unlike windows). Unix and Linux just keep getting more and more stable and nicer to use.
Unix based OS's like Linux (and Mac OS X and FreeBSD) are set to steal market share from windows. I foresee a future when only a few scared people won't move away from windows. This is because windows isn't getting really any better, but the others are. Even Mac OS actually seems to be getting better (arguably the best OS for those who want to use programs, rather than play with the OS) despite already being better than windows.
This is the catch up age. Making revolutionary improvements may now be relegated to changes in hardware not software (new touch screen input devices for example). Both Windows Vista and Mac OS 10.5 (leopard) have been called “evolutionary not revolutionary” and Linux is catching up fast.
I would say it's already there. Regarding Linux I have only one niggle left, which is not so much about Linux,more about the community for Unix derivatives. Those **nix (Unix type operating system) experts need to give help advice in both terminal commands AND gui (graphic user interface). Many new comers to Linux, don't ever want to open a terminal window. I have used terminal and know its nothing to be afraid of, but we the masses (and I include myself in the group) only want to use the user interface, we don't want to use terminal.
Linux will beat Windows only when community starts embracing the 'gui only' newbies. Better interest in Linux is good for all parties. What I couldn't say, is how long this will take.
Meantime those who want an alternative operating system to windows now, here imho (in my humble opinion) are the ones to choose. Mac OS, if you can afford it, Linux.
Quite simply, if your about to buy a new computer, or just have a little more then there is no question that Apple Mac OS X Leopard is the best OS at time of writing (and considering all the free, full version, easy to use professionally programmed software, they're better value than PC's).
If an Apple Mac is not viable, and you want to start (or take another look) at Linux these are my favorite distributions:
Ubuntu is the world leader Linux distro (distribution) because its backed by people with money and a large community. It's slick and nice to use.
Download the CD image, burn it and boot from it, your computer will not be change in anyway and you can try it out, all free, all legal:
If you want nicer still, very fast and well optimised, try the latest version PCLinuxOS its achieved what Ubuntu has without the cash backing (kudos). If you want the 'up and coming” distro, try it, it recently shot to #1 at http://www.distrowatch.com/:
Download the CD image, burn it and boot from it, your computer will not be changed in anyway and you can try it out, all free, all legal:
Maybe you'd prefer a Linux distro with a long history of great accomplishments and a large professional user base. In that case Fedora, Red Hat or Open Suse might be for you. I would say, if they were the right ones for you, chances are you'd probably know that already. New to Linux users would be better to try Ubuntu or PClinuxOS.
Last but not least an option close to Linux but not. Pure Unix, the mother of all these advancements has (as I crudely understand it) one cool advantage over Linux. It truly separates the OS from the program layer, offering improved protection against the all too common 'shelf life' which makes the system suffer (most notably speed and stability) after too many programs have been installed and uninstalled. We'll now there's a rather windows like, user friendly version of Unix (FreeBSD) it's called PCBSD and its really worth a look:
Once again you can download the CD free and legal here:http://www.pcbsd.org/